Women, Too, Were Blessed: The Portrayal of Women in Early Christian Armenian Texts 9789004445031, 900444503X

The Women, Too, Were Blessed by David Zakarian is the first extensive study of the representation of women in the fifth-

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Women, Too, Were Blessed: The Portrayal of Women in Early Christian Armenian Texts
 9789004445031, 900444503X

Table of contents :
1. Scope
2. The Fifth Century
3. Two Traditions of the Christianisation of Armenia
4. Previous Research
5. Nature of the Texts: Representation versus Lived Reality
6. In Comparison with Other Traditions
7. Structure of the Book
8. Brief Overview of the Primary Sources
Part 1. Context
Women in Pre-Christian Arsacid Armenia
1. Introduction
2. Armenian Society in the First–Fourth Centuries CE
3 The Institution of the Family
4 Customary Law
5 The Pre-Christian Religion of Armenia
6 Conclusion
Part 2. Representation
2. The Representation of St Sanduxt in
The Martyrdom of St Thaddeus and Sanduxt
1 Introduction
2 St Thecla as a Literary Model for Armenian Authors
3 The Representation of Sanduxt
4 Additional Remarks
5 Conclusion
Women in Agat‘angełos’ History of the Armenians
1 Introduction
2 The Literary Aspects of the Text
3 The Prologue and the Life
4 The Representation of Hṙip‘simē and Her Companions
5 The Teaching
6 Xosroviduxt and Ašxēn
7 Conclusion
The Early Armenian Church and Female Asceticism
1 Introduction
2 Female Asceticism in the Greco-Syriac Sources
3 Female Asceticism in the Fifth-Century Armenian Texts
4 Conclusion
Part 3. Lived Reality
. Women in Society: Spaces, Roles, and Everyday Life
1 Introduction
2 Physical Spaces
3 Women as Educators
4 Glimpses of Everyday Life
5 Conclusion
6. Marriage in Early Christian Armenia
1 Introduction
2 Different Traditions
3 Local Customs
4 Marriage Patterns of the Armenian Elite
5 Widowhood
6 Women in the Šahapivan Canons: Additional Remarks
7 Conclusion
7. Queenship in Arsacid Armenia
1 Introduction
2 The Queen’s Title
3 Symbolic Attributes of Authority
4 The Queen’s Authority
5 The Exercise of Power
6 Court Intrigues
7 Conclusion
8. Violence against Women
1 Introduction
2 The System of Honour and Shame
3 The Epic Histories
4 Domestic Violence
5 Conclusion
Index of Topics
Index of Names

Citation preview

Women, Too, Were Blessed

Armenian Texts and Studies Editors Valentina Calzolari (University of Geneva) Theo Maarten van Lint (University of Oxford) Editorial Board Claude Cox (McMaster Divinity School, Hamilton) Nina G. Garsoïan (Columbia University) Michael E. Stone (Hebrew University of Jerusalem) Robert Thomson† (Oxford University)

volume 4

The titles published in this series are listed at brill.com/arts

Women, Too, Were Blessed The Portrayal of Women in Early Christian Armenian Texts


David Zakarian


Cover illustration: Hṙip‘simē’s Christianity triumphs over Trdat’s paganism, St Hṙip‘simē Church, Yalta, Crimea, Western apse, photo by Tatevik Sargsyan. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Zakarian, David, 1979–author. Title: Women, too, were blessed : the portrayal of women in early Christian  Armenian texts / by David Zakarian. Description: Leiden ; Boston : Brill, [2021] | Series: Armenian texts and  studies, 2405–7045 ; 4 | Includes bibliographical references and index. Identifiers: LCCN 2020046581 (print) | LCCN 2020046582 (ebook) | ISBN  9789004444416 (hardback : acid-free paper) | ISBN 9789004445031 (ebook) Subjects: LCSH: Armenia—Church history. | Christian women—Religious  life—Armenia—History—Sources. | Christian literature,  Armenian—History and criticism. Classification: LCC BR1100 .Z35 2021 (print) | LCC BR1100 (ebook) | DDC  891/.99209358827—dc23 LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2020046581 LC ebook record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2020046582

Typeface for the Latin, Greek, and Cyrillic scripts: “Brill”. See and download: brill.com/brill-typeface. ISSN 2405-7045 ISBN 978-90-04-44441-6 (hardback) ISBN 978-90-04-44503-1 (e-book) Copyright 2021 by David Zakarian. Published by Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, The Netherlands. Koninklijke Brill NV incorporates the imprints Brill, Brill Hes & De Graaf, Brill Nijhoff, Brill Rodopi, Brill Sense, Hotei Publishing, mentis Verlag, Verlag Ferdinand Schöningh and Wilhelm Fink Verlag. Koninklijke Brill NV reserves the right to protect this publication against unauthorized use. Requests for re-use and/or translations must be addressed to Koninklijke Brill NV via brill.com or copyright.com. This book is printed on acid-free paper and produced in a sustainable manner.

Արցախյան գոյամարտում ընկած իմ քույրերի եւ եղբայրների անմար հիշատակին Դ. Զաքարյան Օքսֆորդ, 11 Նոյեմբերի 2020

Contents Preface xi Acknowledgements xiii Abbreviations xv Transliteration xvii Introduction 1 1 Scope 1 2 The Fifth Century 2 3 Two Traditions of the Christianisation of Armenia 7 4 Previous Research 8 5 Nature of the Texts: Representation versus Lived Reality 10 6 In Comparison with Other Traditions 17 7 Structure of the Book 21 8 Brief Overview of the Primary Sources 22

part 1 Context 1 Women in Pre-Christian Arsacid Armenia 41 1 Introduction 41 2 Armenian Society in the First–Fourth Centuries CE 42 3 The Institution of the Family 45 4 Customary Law 55 5 The Pre-Christian Religion of Armenia 58 6 Conclusion 65

part 2 Representation 2 The Representation of St Sanduxt in The Martyrdom of St Thaddeus and Sanduxt 69 1 Introduction 69 2 St Thecla as a Literary Model for Armenian Authors 71 3 The Representation of Sanduxt 72 4 Additional Remarks 77 5 Conclusion 77



3 Women in Agat‘angełos’ History of the Armenians 79 1 Introduction 79 2 The Literary Aspects of the Text 80 3 The Prologue and the Life 83 4 The Representation of Hṙip‘simē and Her Companions 89 5 The Teaching 100 6 Xosroviduxt and Ašxēn 102 7 Conclusion 103 4 The Early Armenian Church and Female Asceticism 105 1 Introduction 105 2 Female Asceticism in the Greco-Syriac Sources 106 3 Female Asceticism in the Fifth-Century Armenian Texts 110 4 Conclusion 133

part 3 Lived Reality 5 Women in Society: Spaces, Roles, and Everyday Life 137 1 Introduction 137 2 Physical Spaces 137 3 Women as Educators 143 4 Glimpses of Everyday Life 152 5 Conclusion 154 6 Marriage in Early Christian Armenia 156 1 Introduction 156 2 Different Traditions 156 3 Local Customs 158 4 Marriage Patterns of the Armenian Elite 171 5 Widowhood 176 6 Women in the Šahapivan Canons: Additional Remarks 177 7 Conclusion 178 7 Queenship in Arsacid Armenia 179 1 Introduction 179 2 The Queen’s Title 180 3 Symbolic Attributes of Authority 181 4 The Queen’s Authority 185


5 The Exercise of Power 189 6 Court Intrigues 191 7 Conclusion 193 8 Violence against Women 194 1 Introduction 194 2 The System of Honour and Shame 195 3 The Epic Histories 196 4 Domestic Violence 204 5 Conclusion 206 Conclusions 208 Bibliography 211 Index of Topics 231 Index of Names 233


Preface This book stems from my doctoral dissertation at the University of Oxford and explores the portrayal of women in early Christian Armenian texts. The idea of researching this topic emerged in 2010, in my final year as a Master’s student in the School of English at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, where, amongst other things, I received extensive training in feminist literary criticism. While preparing the research proposal for the DPhil programme in Oxford, I came to realise how little feminist and gender-critical scholarship existed in the field of Armenian studies, especially in relation to the late antique and medieval period of Armenian history. Several years of painstaking but immensely rewarding research driven by a genuine desire to fill this lacuna have resulted in this monograph. The main aim of this book is to explore the issue of representation of women in the fifth-century Armenian literature and historiography, and to investigate the ways in which the largely patriarchal society of Armenia treated women after Christianisation. A close scrutiny of the rhetorical aspects of the texts and of the content of the passages that speak about women enables us to acquire a deeper understanding of the role of women in society as envisioned by the ecclesiastical authorities of the country and to gain insightful, albeit limited, knowledge of women’s lived experience. A certain bias and wishful thinking may unwittingly creep into one’s investigation of the representation of women of a specific ethnic group, when one is a male researcher belonging to the same ethnicity. The awareness of this potential pitfall urged me to challenge and reassess my findings and interpretations at every step of this study in order to minimise the possible shortcomings. Systematic use of the most rigorous research methods appropriate for the present undertaking has been a crucial factor in ensuring that this problem is circumvented. With this book I hope to strengthen the presence of feminist discourse in the Armenian studies and invite scholars working in adjacent fields to contribute to the integration of knowledge about Armenian history and culture into wider scholarship in the humanities and social sciences. I anticipate that this work will lay the groundwork for future study into the history of women in the Armenian tradition. It should also be mentioned that in the preparation of this study I have examined primary and secondary sources in the original language of composition with the exception of Syriac texts, because, regrettably, I have no command of



that beautiful language. This is the reason why the Syriac texts are provided only in English translation. All translations from primary sources are mine, unless I am quoting from a scholarly translated edition of the text. David Zakarian Oxford, May 2020

Acknowledgements After years of arduous journey through the unpredictable sea of ancient history, scholars’ fervent wish is to feel the joy by completing and publishing the results of their research. They never embark on such a journey alone and the people who have supported them in various ways from its onset deserve to be remembered with heartfelt gratitude. My journey began in 2009 in Aristotle University of Thessaloniki with Karin Boklund-Lagopoulou’s encouragement and blessing, and I owe her an enormous debt of gratitude for believing in me. In Oxford I was welcomed by the sparkling wit and enormous erudition of Theo M. van Lint, who for several years provided me with tremendous academic and moral support, who generously shared with me his expertise and his books, and who patiently guided and encouraged me throughout my quest for medieval Armenian women. I am particularly indebted to Valentina Calzolari, David G.K. Taylor, Judith Pfeiffer, Alison G. Salvesen, as well as to the two anonymous reviewers of the book for their thoughtful comments, corrections, constructive criticism, and invaluable advice that helped me avoid numerous pitfalls. My gratitude also goes out to Yuhan Sohrab-Dinshaw Vevaina, Natalie N. Quin, Alex MacFarlane, and Robin Meyer, who provided assistance at various stages of the writing of this book. However, it goes without saying that all mistakes and inaccuracies are mine alone. I would also like to thank Tatevik Sargsyan for providing me with the high definition image from St Hṙip‘simē (St Sargis) church in Yalta for the cover of this book. The research for this book was made possible in part by various grants. For their generous financial support in the early years of my academic career, I wish to thank the following organisations: the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation for funding the final year of my D.Phil. research; St Antony’s and Pembroke Colleges, the Faculty of Oriental Studies of the University of Oxford, and the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR) for funding the trips to workshops and conferences that enriched me academically and helped me improve the quality of my work. I would also like to extend my sincere thanks to the British Academy for the award of a postdoctoral fellowship, during which the final pages of this book were written. The most powerful force, however, that always kept the fair wind in my sails, motivated and inspired me, was my family, my wife Marianna, my children,



Robert and Dimitrios Levon, and my parents. When things seemed most gloomy, they always showed me the light. I dedicate this book to the memory of my grandfather, Hamazasp Zakarian, an inspirational teacher, poet, and an endlessly kind man. He instilled in me an undying fascination for literature and history, and I am eternally grateful to him for that.

Abbreviations Bibliographical Abbreviations Aa

The Armenian text and English translation of Agat‘angełos’ History including the Teaching of Saint Gregory: Armenian text – Agat‘angełos 1979 [1909]; English translation of Aa along with references to and translations of the Greek, Arabic, and Syriac recensions (both A and V, but with the exclusion of the Teaching of Saint Gregory) – Thomson 2010; English translation of the Teaching – Thomson 2001 Ammianus Marcellinus 1986 Lampe 1961, A Patristic Greek Lexicon Lehto 2010, The Demonstrations of Aphrahat, the Persian Sage

AM APGL Aphrahat, Demonstration Armenian Armenian text – Mathews 1998a; English translation – Mathews 1998b. The first number refers to the page of the Armenian text, Commentary while the one in square brackets to its English translation on Genesis The Epic Histories (Buzandaran Patmut‘iwnk‘): Armenian EH text – P‘awstos Buzandac‘i 1889; English translation and Nina Garsoïan’s introduction with appendices – Garsoïan 1989 Ełišē Ełišē’s History: Armenian text – Ełišē 1865; English translation – Ełišē 1982. For the sake of convenience both texts are referred to as Ełišē, followed by the page number of the English translation and in square brackets by the page number of the Armenian original. Wherever Thomson’s Introduction to the 1982 translation is quoted, the format ‘Ełišē, page number’ will be applied Eznik Armenian text – Eznik 1994; English translation – Eznik 1998 Boyce 1975, A History of Zoroastrianism, vol. 1 HZ I Boyce 1982, A History of Zoroastrianism, vol. 2 HZ II Koriwn 1985; Classical Armenian text and translation into Koriwn Modern Armenian by M. Abełyan; English translation by B. Norehad Patmut‘iwn Srboyn Nersisi Part‘ewi Hayoc‘ Hayrapeti (The Life of Life of St Nersēs the Armenian Patriarch St Nersēs the Parthian) 1853 Łazar P‘arpec‘i’s History: Armenian text – Łazar P‘arpec‘i ŁP 1904; English translation – Łazar P‘arpec‘i 1991. For the sake of convenience both texts are referred to as ŁP, followed by the



page number of the English translation and in square brackets by the page number of the Armenian original. Wherever Thomson’s Introduction to the 1991 translation is quoted, the format ‘ŁP, page number’ will be applied MartThad Vkayabanut‘iwn ew Giwt Nšxarac‘ S. T‘adēi Aṙak‘eloy ew Sandxtoy Kusi (The Martyrdom and the Discovery of Relics of St Thaddeus the Apostle and of the Virgin Sanduxt) 1853 Movsēs Xorenac‘i’s History; Armenian text – Movsēs Xorenac‘i 1981 MX and 1991; English translation – Movsēs Xorenac‘i 2006. For the sake of convenience both texts are referred to as MX Nor Baṙgirk‘ Haykazean Lezui, volume 1 and 2 NBHL The New Oxford Annotated Bible: New Revised Standard Version with NRSV the Apocrypha 2010; all quotes from the Bible in English come from this edition. The Armenian text is taken from Zohrapean 1805 PG Patrologiae Cursus Completus: Series Graeca; ed. J.P. Migne (individual volumes) The Martyrdom Muradyan 1996, Surb Šušaniki Vkayabanut‘yunǝ: Bnagrer ew Hetazotut‘yun (The Martyrdom of Saint Šušanik: The Original Texts of St Šušanik and Study)


Arm. Armenian Gk. Greek Middle Persian Mid. Pers. OP. Old Persian Parth. Parthian

Transliteration In the present study Armenian words and names are transliterated according to the “Hübschmann – Meillet – Benveniste” system of transliteration as used in the Revue des études arméniennes. “Modified Library of Congress” system is used for Russian. When citing other sources, the authors’ original spelling and transliteration of proper names and toponyms in English have been preserved (e.g. P‘aṙandzem instead of P‘aṙanjem; Rhipsime instead of Hṙip‘simē; Arshak instead of Aršak).

Introduction 1


With the rise of gender studies and women’s history as major academic disciplines during the last three decades of the twentieth century, especially after what became known as the ‘linguistic turn’,1 many scholars interested in the construction of gender stereotypes, which were conducive to the institutionalisation of discrimination against women in contemporary societies, turned their attention to pre- and early Christian historical, theological, and literary sources. The focus of that research has been primarily the large body of work preserved in Greek and Latin. In recent years a similar interest, albeit to a much lesser degree, has grown in connection with the primary sources in Syriac, Georgian, and Armenian. The stories about the lives of early Christian women and men, both in the West and in the East, have come down to us in the texts written, copied, and edited by men, even though some of these stories must have been created and transmitted orally by women.2 The diverse and often rhetorically richly ornate discourse of these texts constructs a world through a male perspective, imposing on readers men’s interpretation of how things happened, what the causes for and consequences of these events were, what was believed by them to be righteous and unrighteous, who the heroes or villains were and so on. It is, therefore, often difficult, though not impossible, to navigate through the narratives of early Christian authors in search of real people, especially of women, for in addition to ideologically biased representation and the strong presence of literary and, on many occasions, legendary strata, a very important role in shaping and presenting the past and the present was played by the patriarchal cultural values of early Christian societies that were in place at the advent of Christianity. The present work is the first major attempt to deploy the recently developed theoretical frameworks of the gender studies and women’s history in order to explore the issue of the representation of women in early Christian Armenian sources and to retrieve, as much as the sources would allow, information about the lived reality of women. The main goal is to offer a fresh perspective into 1 For a broad overview of the intellectual debates that preceded and followed the ‘linguistic turn’ and its implications, see Clark 2004 and 1998b, and Spiegel 2005. See also Canning 1994 for the feminist history after the ‘linguistic turn’. 2 This is the main argument in Burrus 1987.

© David Zakarian, 2021 | doi:10.1163/9789004445031_002



the ways scholars interested in women’s history and gender studies could approach the primary sources in the Armenian tradition, and to lay the groundwork for future study into the history of women in the Armenian tradition. This book provides a systematic evaluation and analysis of the available material with the primary focus being the portrayal of women in the fifth-century Armenian texts. To achieve this goal, the present volume initially identifies and delineates the historical, political, and sociocultural contexts within which the stories about women were created, for until now the influence of the pre-Christian values and worldviews on the portrayal of women in early Christian Armenian texts has been disregarded by scholars. It is followed by an investigation of the discourse used by early Christian Armenian authors to speak about women and what the possible reasons and implications of their representation were. Finally, the primary sources are analysed to retrieve some aspects of women’s lives in the first two centuries of Armenia’s Christianisation. 2

The Fifth Century

We are fortunate to have a number of texts that extensively speak of women, albeit not fortunate enough to have sources composed by them. Another notable limitation is the fact that only women of noble origin, with very few insignificant exceptions, attract authors’ attention, thus leaving out the majority of female population of Armenia.3 This is particularly true of the fifth-century texts which have preserved accounts of various episodes of Armenian history and more importantly of the most momentous, as the time has shown, event, namely the Christianisation of the Armenian people.

3 On the complexity of marking the real and imagined borders of Armenia in this period of constant geopolitical changes in the area, see Greenwood 2019 and Garsoïan 1971, pp. 343– 346. In the period of the reign of the Arsacid dynasty (ca 66 ce–428 ce) Armenia was in no sense a politically unified country (see Adontz 1970, pp. 7–74). The major division of Armenia into two spheres of influence between the Byzantine and Persian Empires was reflected in the political, cultural, and social life of the Armenian people. Yet, Greater Armenia, which was under the control of the Arsacid dynasty, was, at least culturally, a uniform entity while the western Armenian lands were “neither politically nor culturally a homogeneous unit” (ibid., p. 25). Henceforth, the society of Greater Armenia will be our primary focus, unless stated otherwise, for this was the place where the Armenian historical writing reflecting the values and mores of people originated.



In general, the significance of the fifth century ce in the intellectual, political, and cultural history of the Armenians cannot be overemphasised.4 Most importantly, it is the outset of the formative period of the Armenian Church, when the written texts sponsored by the Armenian ecclesiastical and lay elites attempted to conceptualise the socio-political and cultural developments that were stimulated by the adoption of Christianity at the beginning of the fourth century.5 The creation of the Armenian alphabet by St Maštoc‘ in ca 405 CE, which was prompted primarily by the need to make the language of the Bible more accessible to the wider public in order to facilitate the conversion process, heralded a new era of cultural and intellectual transformation in society.6 Soon it became imperative, alongside translations from Greek and Syriac, to write original texts in Armenian, which would focus on the evaluation of historical and contemporary events, as well as on forging a new Christian identity of the Armenians.7 Reliance on the oral tradition, which had preserved the memories of past events, was inevitable. Owing to the fact that this process was taking place mainly in religious circles, the literature of this period was imbued with numerous allusions to the

4 Some scholars, following the nineteenth-century characterisation of the Mekhitarist scholars, refer to this century as “the Golden Age” (see, e.g., Hacikyan et al. 2000, pp. 93–105). However, as it has been argued by Nina Garsoïan (2009, pp. 81–82), this definition « basée principalement sur des sources littéraires était, comme telle, parfaitement légitime puisque le développement rapide d’une littérature historique nationale … », but « sur un plan proprement historique, cette définition est difficilement recevable … » mainly because of the political and religious fragmentation of the country. 5 For this formative period permeated with Christological disputes and controversies between the Hellenophile and Syrian fractions in the Armenian Church and in wider society, see Garsoïan 1983 and Winkler 1985. 6 This is how the author of the earliest known written work in Armenian, Koriwn (1985, XI), apprehended it: Անդ էր այնուհետեւ սրտալիր ուրախութիւն եւ ակնավայել տեսիլ հայելւոյն։ Քանզի երկիր, որ համբաւուցն անգամ աւտար էր կողմանցն այնոցիկ, յորում ամենայն աստուածագործ սքանչելագործութիւնքն գործեցան, առժամայն վաղվաղակի ամենայն իրացն եղելոց խելամուտ լինէր. ոչ միայն ժամանակաւ պաշտեցելոցն, այլ եւ յառաջագոյն յաւիտենիցն, եւ ապա եկելոցն, սկզբանն եւ կատարածի, եւ ամենայն աստուածատուր աւանդութեանցն; “What heart-warming

joy existed there thenceforward, and what a pleasant scene for the eyes! For a land which had not known even the name of the regions where all those wonderful divine acts had been performed, soon learned all the things that were, not only those that had transpired in time, but that of the eternity which had preceded, and those that had come later, the beginning and the end and all the divine traditions.” 7 For a more detailed discussion of the most important factors that contributed to the formation of the Armenians’ Christian identity, see Garsoïan and Mahé 1997, pp. 9–58 and van Lint 2009, pp. 265–275.



scriptures8 and the works of the Greek and Syriac Church Fathers, often without any acknowledgement. The Church acquired effective control of the discourse, for all the early Armenian historical and literary works were composed by clerics who would build their narrative around a specific biblical model or motif which was appropriate for the occasion. This intertextual approach implied an interpretation of historical events and legends by means of religious terms and parallels, an approach already conspicuous in Koriwn’s Life of Maštoc‘, the first biography written in the Armenian language.9 The century was also marked by several significant events that had a long-lasting effect on the socio-political life of the country. In 428 ce Arsacid rule and the institution of kingship in Armenia was abolished. The major part of the former Armenian kingdom came under the suzerainty of Sasanian Iran, whereas the remaining territory was annexed by the Roman Empire.10 Amongst other things, the absence of a central governing body precipitated the increase of the church’s importance, which is indicated by the surviving texts and documents of ecclesiastical synods. The Armenian Church began to serve the function of a legislative body which formulated rules regulating the social relationships of people of all ranks with the exception of the country’s elite.11 Despite centuries-long political and cultural ties, the gradual strengthening of Christian institutions in Armenia was instrumental in the alienation of the Armenians from the Iranian social milieu. As a consequence, the Sasanians made several attempts to extend their influence over the powerful Armenian nobles (naxarars), to re-introduce Armenia into the Iranian oikoumene, and to eliminate Armenia’s status as a buffer state between Persia and the Byzantine Empire. However, as the early Christian authors present it, the customary law of the Armenians, already imbued with Christian ideals, proved to be a major stumbling block to the plans of the Persians. The influential naxarars vehemently opposed the ‘reforms’ implemented by the Persian officials, for these interferences into the internal structure of the naxarar society aimed 8

As Thomson mentions, “Whatever the subject of the narrative, biblical images and parallels would be foremost in the minds of Armenian authors” (Thomson 1976, p. lxxx). 9 Terian 2005, pp. 13–21; Mahé 1992, pp. 123–131. For more on Koriwn’s work and its influence on early Christian Armenian historiography, see Winkler 1994, pp. 44–90. 10 For more details, see Manandyan 1978, pp. 282–293. 11 This can be seen in the canons of the church. For instance, Canons III–VI ratified by the Šahapivan Council in 444 established rules regulating relationships between a husband and wife (adultery, divorce); Canon VII formulated the punishment for abducting a maiden; Canons VIII–X forbade witchcraft; Canon XI referred to behaviour during funerals, especially criticising wailing over the dead (Hovhannesian 2016–2017, pp. 80–84; Hakobyan 1964, pp. 432–444; Akinean 1949, pp. 148–155; see also below Chapter 4 and Chapter 6).



at weakening the authority and revoking some of the privileges which the Armenian nobility possessed in accordance with the customary law.12 The tension heightened in 450–451, when the Persians endeavoured to coerce some leading Armenian magnates to apostatise and return to Zoroastrianism. It led to a split of Armenian society into two parties: as the Armenian historians Ełišē and Łazar P‘arpec‘i relate, several naxarars alongside a large number of the country’s population representing all social classes chose to oppose the plans of the Persian court, while many others bowed to pressure or were enticed away from Christianity by the Persians’ promises of honour, glory, and, possibly, by their lingering beliefs and customs that were linked to Zoroastrianism. The former rose up in rebellion, but at the Battle of Avarayr (26 May, 451) the Armenian troops were crushed by a much larger Persian army. The repercussions of this defeat were twofold: on the one hand, it had a disastrous demographic effect, for some noble families were wiped out, while others lost both their senior and junior male members on the battlefield, or they were taken to Persia as captives.13 On the other hand, “the great battle” or “the great war”14 became a significant milestone in the development of Christian Armenian identity and a potent ideological weapon of the Armenian Church. It was interpreted and conceptualised as a moral victory of Christian faith, for “[m]en who were armed with the love of God for a weapon shrank at nothing in dread, as would cowards who are feeble-hearted.”15 A generation later the representatives of the Armenian nobility who perished in this struggle to protect the “patrimonial and natural religion” of the Armenians16 were to be glorified as saints and martyrs.17 12 See Thomson’s Introduction in Ełišē, p. 10. For a fuller discussion of the reasons for the first rebellion of the Armenian nobility against the policies of the Persian court in 450– 451, see Yuzbašyan 1985, pp. 48–52. 13 For more details, see Hewsen 2001, pp. 87–88. 14 Ełišē, pp. 130 [78], 171 [119], and 176 [124]: մեծ պատերազմ. 15 Ibid., p. 150 [98]: [մ]արդիկ, որ սիրովն Աստուծոյ իբրեւ զինու վառեալք էին, ոչ ինչ խնայեցին զանգիտելով իբրեւ զանարի՝ գոլով վատասիրտք. Regrettably, only the perspective of the supporters of Christianity has survived, for our knowledge of the revolt of 450–451 comes from the narratives of Łazar and Ełišē, whose interpretation of the situation in the country and of the main impetus behind the rebellion betrays their firm adherence to the Armenian Church and to their Christian patrons. Even though there are apparent discrepancies between their accounts (see ŁP, pp. 12–14, Ełišē, pp. 3–9, 14, 26–27, and Ananean 1991), both authors foreground the religious aspect of the conflict and the leading role of the Mamikonean family in the political life of the country. 16 ŁP, p. 221 [161]: զհայրենի եւ զբնիկ օրէնս. For more details on awrēnk‘, see below Chapter 1. 17 See Sargsyan et al. 2007.



In the aftermath of these events the Persians did not pursue immediate implementation of their plans, which resulted in a period of uneasy peace. The mounting tension, however, erupted into a new rebellion in 482, details about which are supplied only in “Section III” of Łazar’s History.18 At the time the nephew of Vardan Mamikonean, Vahan, emboldened by the Georgian rebellion of King Vaxt‘ang, led the Armenian contingents against the Persians. Being considerably outnumbered by the Persian forces, the Armenians tried to avoid pitched battles. Instead, they deployed the tactics of guerrilla warfare, which enabled them to prolong the struggle for about two years until the Persian King Peroz perished in the campaign against the Hephthalites. This unexpected development urged the new Persian King Vałarš to seek a peaceful settlement of the rebellion, which was eventually achieved in 484 at the village of Nuarsak, in the province of Her.19 The hereditary privileges and honours were restored to the naxarars, the Armenians were allowed to practise the Christian religion without impediment, and a period of political stability commenced. The socio-cultural and political changes of the fifth century were favourable to the development of a new Christian identity for the Armenian people and contributed to the formation of the national Christian ideology directly reflected in and reinforced by the works of the first Armenian authors. Although the official conversion took place at the beginning of the fourth century, the fifth-century texts already refer to Christianity as the ancestral religion of the Armenians, disregarding many centuries of Armenian Zoroastrianism, which still had many followers in the country. The new Christian authorities devoted great efforts to eradicating the pre-Christian practices and to replacing the old understanding of how the world functioned with the new religion’s tenets and philosophy. It is within this historical context that the stories of women, which are discussed in the present work, appear. It should also be stressed that these texts have exerted a significant influence on the mentality of Armenians throughout the centuries. Despite the rhetorical and, in many cases, legendary elements with which these texts abounded, many generations of Armenians treated them as reflecting the objective reality and as repositories of facts about the past of Armenian people. Therefore, research into the ways in which the early Christian Armenian Church Fathers perceived and presented the role of women in society will also allow us to understand much better the discourse on women in the rich heritage of Armenian literature of subsequent centuries.

18 19

For the discussion of the reasons for this rebellion, see Yuzbašyan 1985, pp. 52–57. For the discussion of the dates of the 482–484 rebellion, see Yuzbašyan 1984.




Two Traditions of the Christianisation of Armenia

The orally transmitted narratives of Armenia’s Christianisation, which reflected the Greek and Syriac strands of Armenian Christianity, were also put into writing in the fifth century. The most popular story, promoted by the country’s ecclesiastical authorities, was Agat‘angełos’ History of the Armenians, which represented the tradition that linked Armenian Christianity to the Church of Caesarea. The second tradition was based on St Thaddeus’ apostolic mission to the East in the first century and the martyrdom of Sanduxt, maintained in the anonymous Vkayabanut‘iwn ew Giwt Nšxarac‘ S. T‘adēi Aṙak‘eloy ew Sandxtoy Kusi (The Martyrdom and the Discovery of Relics of St Thaddeus the Apostle and of the Virgin Sanduxt). What is pertinent to the present study is that in both narratives much space and attention is devoted to female protagonists, who are depicted as powerful figures that attempt to subvert the authority of pagan rulers, and their agency plays a crucial role in the conversion of the Armenians. The adoption of Christianity as the official religion of the Armenian Arsacid kingdom at the beginning of the fourth century ce marks a very significant event in the history of the Armenian people.20 It not only transformed the society and introduced a new element to the geopolitical relationships in the area, but Christianity also contributed to the development and perpetuation of Armenian culture and national identity. The propagation of Christian beliefs heightened a paramount need for the creation of an alphabet capable of rendering the sounds of the Armenian language at the beginning of the fifth century, which, in its turn, was conducive to the emergence of native Armenian written tradition. The overall impact of Christianisation on Armenian society is succinctly summarised in Robert Thomson’s following remark:

20 Eusebius of Caesarea in his Ecclesiastical History attests to the existence of Christian communities in Armenia some time before the country’s official Christianisation in the fourth century (Eusebius 1932, VI, 46 and IX, 8). However, it was not until the beginning of the fourth century that the noble families including the ruling Arsacids were converted. Regarding the date of Christianisation, although in 2001 the Armenian Apostolic Church celebrated the 1700th anniversary of the Christianisation of Armenia (the date 301 ce was proposed by Č‘amč‘eanc‘ (1784, pp. 385–390)), the absence of a reference to a specific date of conversion in the historical sources has given rise to various speculations, and several dates have been suggested by scholars: 219 (Akinean), 279 (Malxasean), 291 (K‘asuni), and 314 (Manandyan, Ananean and most modern scholars). For the study of each approach, see Ananean 1998, pp. 9–80. Mahé (1999, p. 69), on the other hand, concurring with Manaseryan (1997, pp. 197–201), supports a date between 305 and 307.



The conversion of Armenia to Christianity in the early fourth century ad not only wrought a momentous change within Armenia itself but was also significant for the general history and culture of the Near East. Christian Armenia produced an original art and architecture as well as a rich native literature. The Armenian church played a major role in the development of Eastern (non-Greek) Christianity. And Armenian culture in general developed a fascinating amalgam of indigenous traditions and foreign influences, sifted and adapted over the centuries.21 This was a major social and cultural shift, and the extant historical sources bespeak active participation of women in it. To what degree these stories reflect real historical events is difficult to assert, but hardly any scholar will disagree that they, and especially Agat‘angełos’ text, exerted profound influence on subsequent generations of Armenians, whose identity throughout centuries came to be inextricably linked to Christian beliefs. Christianity, as “a religion with a story”,22 was translated into Armenian23 at the beginning of the fifth century, when the “God-given alphabet”24 of the Armenian language, as narrated in Koriwn’s account, was invented by St Maštoc‘, and new narratives of champions of Christ were soon born, recounting the stories of the country’s Christianisation. The Armenians wrote their own national ‘story’, more precisely ‘stories’, which laid the foundation for the Christian Armenian ideology. They represented the male clerics’ perspective and understanding of the new socio-cultural reality which was to endure for many centuries. 4

Previous Research

There have already been several studies dedicated to various aspects of women’s history in the Armenian tradition. In 1936 Vardan Hac‘uni in his Hayuhin 21 Thomson 1976, p. vii. 22 Cameron 1991, p. 89. 23 Koriwn, XI: … յանկարծ ուրեմն օրէնսուսոյց Մովսէս՝ մարգարէական դասուն, եւ յառաջադէմն Պաւղոս՝ բովանդակ առաքելական գնդովն, հանդերձ աշխարհակեցոյց աւետարանաւն Քրիստոսի, միանգամայն եկեալ հասեալ ի ձեռն երկուց հաւասարելոցն՝ հայաբարբառք հայերէնախօսք գտան; “… by the

hands of two colleagues, suddenly, in an instant, Moses, the law-giver, along with the order of the prophets, energetic Paul with the entire phalanx of the apostles, along with Christ’s world-sustaining gospel, became Armenian-speaking.” 24 Ibid., I; զաստուածապարգեւ գրոյն.



Patmut‘ean Aṙǰew (The Armenian Woman Facing History) discussed the role of Armenian women throughout history by referring to a variety of historical sources, including some of the sources discussed here. The main objective of his study was to educate “new” Armenian women and to define their roles within contemporary communities,25 rather than to provide a scholarly evaluation of the available evidence. In the 1960s three articles examining the legal status of women in medieval Armenian law appeared in Patma-Banasirakan Handes (Historical – Philological Journal). They all agreed that medieval Armenian law books conferred upon women basic rights, which were remarkably progressive in the given historical context.26 The development of novel approaches to studying history in the 70s and 80s of the past century, prompted by the theoretical paradigms of structuralism, post-structuralism, post-modernism, feminism, anthropology, and other disciplines, are to a certain degree reflected in most recent studies. Leonardo Alishan, for instance, deployed the methods of cultural anthropology and certain concepts of psychoanalysis to discuss feminine archetypes in the long history of the Armenian people.27 Moreover, at the turn of the century a collection of scholarly articles exploring the role which Armenian women played in the country’s history from ancient times until the modern period was published.28 In recent years Zaroui Pogossian has addressed some aspects of women’s history in medieval Armenian texts.29 In particular, Pogossian’s research has highlighted the significant role that women played in the socio-political life of early Christian Armenia and provided invaluable insight into early Armenian female monasticism, discussing the main reasons why it failed to find fertile soil in Armenia, even though in the neighbouring Christian communities it thrived. However, the most significant contribution to studies of women in early Christian Armenia has been made by Valentina Calzolari, whose research in this particular direction has paved the way for a more extensive investigation into the history of women and socially constructed discourse of gender relations. Amongst her enormous contributions to various aspects of Armenian studies, Calzolari has introduced into the field the theoretical methods of feminist historiography, thus opening up new avenues for research. As the

25 26 27 28 29

Hac‘uni 1936, p. 5. Adoyan 1965; Barxudaryan 1966; Mamyan 1967. Alishan 1988–1989. Merguerian and Renjilian-Burgy 2000. Pogossian 2003 and 2012.



reader will notice below, especially in the discussion of the characters of Hṙip‘simē and Sanduxt, this volume frequently refers to Calzolari’s research. In one of her recent articles Calzolari has corroborated a flexible theoretical approach developed primarily by feminist historians, which enables us not only to analyse the discourse of the texts authored exclusively by men but also to go beyond their ideologically constructed narratives and access information about the experiences of real women.30 Despite heated debates about the validity of this approach,31 I firmly believe that the texts about women written by men should not be dismissed as mere representations that cannot provide any information about real women, as advocated by certain proponents of postmodernism and post-structuralism.32 Despite the fact that these texts are rhetorically and ideologically charged, they still allow us to explore various avenues of female agency and experience and discover some evidence, however scant, of ‘real’ women’s lives.33 There are sound reasons to concur with Shelly Matthews that “the best feminist historiography pays close attention to representation in texts while still attempting to reconstruct a history of women”.34 5

Nature of the Texts: Representation versus Lived Reality

At this point it is necessary to provide more details about the approaches adopted in this book and to explain some of the terms that are frequently used for the analysis of the texts. First, it is important to bear in mind that primary sources, especially the early Christian ones, are not repositories of fully retrievable facts which without a 30 31

Calzolari 2015, pp. 384–391. For the discussion of these views, see Kraemer 2011, pp. 6–11; Matthews 2001, pp. 40–54; Clark 1998a, pp. 416–430. 32 See Clark 2004, pp. 95–181. Regarding the apocryphal texts, this view was expressed by scholars such as Peter Brown (2008, p. 153) and Kate Cooper (1996, pp. 3–4 and 55–67). 33 Kraemer 2008, pp. 171–172. A similar approach is also favoured by Anthony Kaldellis (2010) in his discussion of the methodological challenges related to studying women and children in Byzantine literary sources. For a more recent attempt to deploy this approach in studying the contribution of women to early Greco-Roman Christianity, see Cohick and Brown Hughes 2017. 34 Matthews 2001, p. 54. A decade earlier Louise M. Newman (1991, p. 59) had expressed a similar view: “I am advocating that women’s and gender history share a common goal – one that consists of articulating the history of the interrelationships between ‘experience’ and ‘representation’ of cultural forms. This new and merged practice would have to maintain the terms of both practices and work toward translating the insights of each into the language and framework of the other.”



critical evaluation can provide concrete details about the life of women in early Christian Armenia. They are, in fact, literary creations that, in Gabrielle Spiegel’s words, offer “an index of socially construable meaning rather than an image of reality”.35 At the same time these texts “occupy determinate social spaces, both as products of the social world of authors and as textual agents at work in that world”, and as such they “both mirror and generate social realities, are constituted by and constitute the social and discursive formations which they may sustain, resist, contest, or seek to transform, depending on the case at hand.”36 To put it differently, the attitudes adopted in the text are representations which reflect and reproduce the value system of the author’s milieu, with the intention to perpetuate and shape these values. This approach is conspicuous in the representation of women, which is the product of male authors’ rhetorically structured interpretation of these values. The ideological purpose this interpretation serves is, nevertheless, not always readily recognisable and is often irrecoverable. In my use of the term ‘ideology’ and the adjective ‘ideological’ I follow John Thompson, who defines ideology as “the ways in which meaning serves, in particular circumstances, to establish and sustain relations of power which are systematically asymmetrical”; this “meaning” is conveyed by those who have the power to create particular discourse and interpretations, and our task is to investigate the ways in which meaning is constructed and conveyed by symbolic forms of various kinds, from everyday linguistic utterances to complex images and texts; it requires us to investigate the social contexts within which symbolic forms are employed and deployed; and it calls upon us to ask whether, and if so how, the meaning mobilized by symbolic forms serves, in specific contexts, to establish and sustain relations of domination.37 A conscious attempt to carry out this type of investigation has been made here. The fifth-century Armenian sources have come down to us in the form of texts, narratives, which abound with symbolic forms and rhetorical features. 35 Spiegel 1990, p. 61. 36 Ibid., p. 77. A comparable approach to reading early Christian texts has recently been suggested by Caroline Vander Stichele and Todd Penner (2009, p. 34): “we understand that ancient narratives interconnect with the social, cultural, and political worlds that have informed the imagery and concepts embedded in a specific text.” 37 Thompson 1991, p. 7. In spite of the fact that Thompson promotes this understanding of ideology in relation to modern times, it has effectively been applied in the context of late antique societies (see, for example, Clark 1994).



Their main aim is to impose the author’s and his milieu’s interpretation and understanding of complex historical processes on the readers, usually in flowery prose, in order to moralise the historical events which they depict. In this study, therefore, first and foremost these primary sources are treated as rhetorical constructs before they can be read as reliable historical sources that inform us about what actually happened in the past.38 The rhetorical elements of these texts do not render them unsuitable for historical analysis but they, rather, add another layer to the narrative that should be investigated for their purpose and effect on the recipients of these texts.39 With regard to the representation of women in the texts under scrutiny, the analysis of the rhetorical aspects of the discourse allows us to gain insights into the role of women in society as envisioned and prescribed by the ecclesiastical authorities that controlled the discourse, whereas a closer reading of the content of the passages that speak of women will help us acquire some, albeit limited, knowledge of women’s lived reality or lived experience. The latter category refers to what happened to women and what women themselves caused to happen.40 This approach is based on the assumption that women were not merely passive recipients of men’s agency but they also held agency, meaning that they often acted as subjects and could consciously instigate processes that varied in scale and significance. The notion of agency is closely associated with the concepts of power and authority. This distinction is made in several recent studies into the institution of medieval kingship and queenship,41 and it is effectively used for the analysis of various aspects of power structure and political interaction in society.42 Authority is hereinafter understood as “the right to make a particular decision and to command obedience,” whereas power is treated as “the ability to act effectively on persons or things, to take or secure favourable decisions which are not of right allocated to the individuals or their roles”.43 Thus, authority implies legitimacy and it “is what gives the justification for action and can be of

38 39 40 41 42 43

This approach has already been highlighted and successfully deployed by Averil Cameron in her study of the Vita Constantini (see Cameron 1997, especially p. 145). Elizabeth Clark also favours this approach for studying early Christian texts (Clark 2004, p. 159). For such understanding of rhetorical embellishments of ancient texts, see Ash 2017. For a discussion of some of the definitions of experience, see Canning 1994, pp. 374–378. See, for instance, Bolton and Meek 2007 and Maurer 2003. It should be mentioned that this distinction was originally developed by sociologists, political scientists, and, most importantly, by anthropologists (see, for example, Rosaldo and Lamphere 1974). Smith 1960, pp. 18–19.



either worldly or otherworldly origin,” while power is “the effective exercise of influence over others”.44 The caveat here is the fact that the picture of women’s lived reality, their agency, authority, and power is, in any case, painted by male authors, who also interpreted women’s agency, or ascribed them lack of it. In other words, our understanding of women’s lived reality and agency is mediated by male subjectivity by means of a discourse before reaching its target audience. This is especially conspicuous, and at the same time problematic, when women are the main protagonists of the events described. The mediated linguistic representation of women’s lived reality is usually a well-structured and purposefully designed discursive construction, the main aim of which is to underscore and sustain the power structures prevalent in society. The realisation of the fact that in the texts we primarily deal with representations should not discourage us from seeking to discover women’s lived experiences, for a representation does not nullify the experience itself: it only shifts the perspective from which this reality is seen, adding to it meaning that serves the authorial intention.45 This difficulty with the mediated representation is partially overcome if we consider the fact that in many passages, which reveal aspects of women’s life, women are not the protagonists of the described events and their featuring in them is of secondary importance for the author. This largely reduces the effect of the mediated interpretation, for the author is primarily preoccupied with his story’s male protagonists and their actions. Moreover, the highly rhetorical sources not only reveal the ideological attitudes and value-based beliefs of their authors, which determine the mode of representation of women and gender specific roles, but, to make their stories more realistic, trustworthy, and appealing to their audiences, they also use real life situations and experiences to construct their narrative and as such allow us to glimpse episodes from the lives of real women. Furthermore, the context and authorial intention acquire great importance as categories of historical analysis but, admittedly, they also have certain limitations. Is the context, in which the works were composed, always retrievable? Should we reconstruct it from the available sources? Is it not highly problematic to locate authorial intention in the text, especially when it is not explicitly

44 45

Bolton and Meek 2007, p. 1. According to Vander Stichele and Penner (2009, p. 36), an early Christian text “presents us with fragments of the historical context out of which it arouse, and, as such, texts do reflect a rich and varied historical world, even if such a world is still difficult to reconstruct as a ‘real’ and ‘ideal’ entity”.



stated? These and similar questions, particularly relevant when dealing with pre-modern and more so with early Christian texts, are explored below.46 In connection with most fifth-century Armenian texts, we can assert that the rhetorical nature of works, the authors’ subjective and often politically motivated approaches to interpreting historical events, with focus on some and complete omission of other events,47 and, in general, the moralising nature of the extant sources enable us to develop sufficient understanding of the historical, cultural, socio-political, and ideological context within which the authors of the texts operated.48 This type of contextual reconstruction has, for instance, been done by Nina Garsoïan in connection with the fifth-century Epic Histories attributed to P‘awstos Buzand. Garsoïan has demonstrated that the internal evidence of the text may provide us with a wealth of insights into the author’s identity, his education, his milieu, the authorial intention, circumstances of writing, and the political situation in the country,49 thus offering us the possibility to access what Spiegel calls “the social logic of the text”.50 Another issue which is a matter of considerable scholarly debate is authorial intention. While dealing with ancient texts more often than not it is extremely difficult and often impossible to identify reasons behind a specific interpretation, especially if the text is defective or virtually nothing is known or can be deduced about the identity of the author. Undoubtedly, these problems exist with regard to the early Christian Armenian texts but to a lesser degree, for most authors do not hide behind rhetorically elaborate speeches and readily explain the main goal of their work. Thus, for instance, Łazar P‘arpec‘i states that, when people heard of the virtuous life of spiritual men, they might desire to imitate their asceticism; and when valiant men heard of the deeds of 46 For the discussion of various perspectives regarding the use of context in the historical analysis and the authorial intention, see Clark 2004, pp. 130–156 and Spiegel 1990, pp. 68–77. 47 As succinctly noted by Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza (1994, p. xlvii), “All historiography is a selective view of the past. Historical interpretation is defined by contemporary questions and horizons of reality and conditioned by contemporary political interests and structures of domination.” 48 The view that context matters and is retrievable in many cases has been supported by a number of scholars in different disciplines. See, for instance, Goodin and Tilly 2006, especially pp. 5–7, and Spiegel 1990, p. 85. For a remarkable example of the use of context for a feminist analysis of the symbolism and concept of salvation in early Christianity, see Corrington 1992. 49 See EH, Introduction, pp. 1–16. 50 Spiegel 1990.



other earlier valiant men, they might increase their own valour and leave a noble memory behind them, both of their own selves and of the nation. But that the lazy and base, on looking at themselves and hearing the censure of others, emulating virtue might strive to better themselves.51 To put it differently, the primary objective of this author is to moralise the events he recounts and to provide role models and new ideals which the members of the audience should attempt to emulate. Moralising judgements are pronounced in relation to all characters of the narrative, both women and men, promoting a specific interpretation of events and people’s actions, which allows us to access the value system of the author and of his milieu that sponsored and were the main recipients of his work. To a large extent, this approach to writing history can safely be traced in all Armenian historical texts of the period. As is the case with the works of the vast majority of early Christian Greek, Latin, and Syriac authors, in the texts that will be discussed here the moralising effect with reference to women is often achieved through literary allusions to female characters or intertextual readings of various Christian texts. By allusion I here understand “a reference that is indirect in the sense that it calls for associations that go beyond mere substitution of a referent. An author must intend this indirect reference, and it must be in principle possible that the intended audience could detect it”.52 These allusions, as Anthony Kaldellis suggests, were not a mere “‘affectation’ but a central aspect of the way many authors constructed and presented their meanings.”53 As for intertextuality, I go along with Daniel Boyarin’s view, according to which … the text is always made up of a mosaic of conscious and unconscious citation of earlier discourse…. texts maybe diological in nature – contesting their own assertions as an essential part of the structure of their discourse … there are cultural codes, again either conscious or unconscious,

51 ŁP, p. 38 [5]: Որպես զի զհոգեւորացն զբարիվարսն լուեալ բազմութեան ժողովրդոցն` նմանողք լինել ցանկասցին մարդիկ ճգնութեանց նոցա, եւ քաջքն լսելով զայլոց զգործսն յառաջագոյն քաջացելոցն` յաւելեալ յանձանց քաջութիւն` անուանի յիշատակ թողցեն զկնի իւրեանց` անձանց եւ ազգի: Իսկ ծոյլքն եւ վատքն հայելով յանձինս եւ լսելով զայլոց զպարսաւանս` ի բարի նախանձն կրթեալք ջանասցին լաւանալ. 52 Irwin 2001, p. 293. 53 Kaldellis 2004, p. 12.



which both constrain and allow the production (not creation) of new texts within the culture …54 A recent vivid example of intertextual reading of an early Christian Armenian text has been provided by Valentina Calzolari in her study of the phenomenon of intertextuality in the Act of Paul and Thecla and the Martyrdom of St Thaddeus and Sanduxt.55 Another representative example of intertextuality with regard to Agat‘angełos’ History has been discussed by Garsoïan, who convincingly shows that the account of the metamorphosis of King Trdat into a wild boar is a clear reference to the Zoroastrian deity Vahagn (Vǝrǝθraγna), intended to demonstrate the feebleness of Zoroastrian religion and the omnipotence of the Christian god.56 The difference between literary texts and documents has also been taken into account here. This distinction highlights the literary nature of texts with all its implications, at the same time ascribing a relative ‘objectivity’ to the content of documents. Thus, the canons of church councils, which were promulgated by the ecclesiastical authorities to address burning issues that were present in the contemporary society, are treated as documents that reflect not only the ideological stance of the church, but also reveal many aspects of the social and cultural mores of the Armenian society, enabling us to access existing practices against which the ecclesiastical authorities issue prohibitions. Furthermore, these canons present invaluable information regarding the structure of the society and demonstrate the position of the church towards its different layers. Most importantly for the present study, however, the canons introduce regulations that reveal the church’s view of the position of women in society vis-à-vis men. Another important characteristic feature of the fifth-century Armenian texts is their preoccupation with the public space peopled primarily but not exclusively by men. Women, on the other hand, appear mainly in the domestic or private space, which, in the case of noblewomen, is extended to the confines of their fortresses and the lands under the jurisdiction of the clan. This asymmetrical representation of men and women in historical and literary narratives is a widespread phenomenon in all early Christian traditions. According to social anthropologists, this opposition of the two spheres of activity within human societies “does not determine cultural stereotypes or asymmetries in 54 55 56

Boyarin 1990, p. 12. For more on the intertextual mode of interpretation, see Clark 1999, pp. 122–128. See Calzolari 2015. See Garsoïan 1982, and below Chapter 2.



the evaluation of the sexes, but rather underlies them, to support a very general (and, for women, often demeaning) identification of women with domestic life and of men with public life.”57 This asymmetry is perceived as constructed socially through discourse and implies distribution of roles based on the factor of gender,58 which, as we shall see in this study, is clearly present in the sources under scrutiny. Still, the social interactions vary from one society to another, and we can very often observe overlaps of the two spaces, which prompt a confusion of socially defined roles, especially in modern times.59 However, the modern understanding of public-domestic divide, which is believed to be discriminatory against women for excluding them from receiving proper education and from actively participating in the socio-political life of society,60 is here reconsidered in connection with early Christian Armenian society. The domestic sphere in the naxarar society was an important locus of economic production, which largely determined the welfare of the clan. It was also the primary setting where the members of the clan received their initial education. Owing to prolonged and frequent absence of the clan’s men in hunting or military expeditions,61 the responsibility of the management of the estates fell on the shoulders of senior female members of the family who exerted absolute authority and power over the junior members of the household.62 This seems to explain the active, albeit limited, involvement of women in political, religious, and cultural life of society, widely attested in later sources.63 6

In Comparison with Other Traditions

Before plunging into the world of the fifth-century Armenian authors, certain peculiarities of their texts should also be highlighted. The fifth-century Armenian literature was created in the circles which were well-versed in the works of Greek and Syriac Church Fathers. Armenian clergy could access these texts not only in translation but also in the original language of composition 57 Rosaldo 1974, 23–24. 58 Ibid., pp. 18–24. 59 Ibid., pp. 35–36. For a brief discussion on the problematic nature of the private/public division applied for the analysis of the role of women in medieval societies, see Elm 1996, pp. 15–18. 60 See Whiteman 2008, p. 492 61 For hunting, see, for instance, Garsoïan 1976, pp. 27–31, and for the engagement of Armenian men in the military, see Adontz 1970, pp. 183–234. 62 A similar situation is attested with regard to Achaemenid and Sasanian women (Rose 2015, p. 283). 63 See, for example, Greenwood 2004, pp. 68–70.



because many of them received education in important Christian centres of the time such as Edessa, Nissibis, Melitene, Constantinople, Samosata, and Antioch.64 It is therefore reasonable to assume that many ideas and interpretations of the Armenian authors were greatly informed by the views expressed in the works of Greek and Syriac Fathers. Besides the Bible, only a few specific titles are known with certainty to have already been translated into Armenian in the fifth century. For numerous texts, however, scholarly consensus has yet to be reached. From amongst the Greek authors certain works of Athanasius of Alexandria, Eusebius, John Chrysostom, Gregory of Nyssa, Basil of Caesarea and others have safely been identified as the ones extant already in the fifth century.65 As for the Syriac texts, the state of affairs has been equally complicated and only a few translations of works by authors such as Aphrahat “the Persian Sage” and St Ephrem the Syrian are now safely placed in the fifth century.66 In the present work references to Greek and Syriac authors are often made without implying that they were all known to the Armenian authors. However, a comparison to what we already know about the Greek and Syriac sources from around that same period will allow us to put the texts under scrutiny into a larger historical context. In this respect it is essential to bear in mind Susan Ashbrook Harvey’s insightful observations that until the fifth century there was a “striking tendency of the early Syriac church, in contrast to those of the Graeco-Latin cultures, to encourage feminine symbols in response to Christian revelations”;67 there was “an intense presence of powerful female imagery and symbols,”68 which, however, was gradually censored and diminished in the fifth century and onwards under the growing pressure from the GraecoLatin Christianity.69 Despite apparent similarities in approach and strong reliance of Armenian writers on influential Greek and Syriac authors, there are, nevertheless, several remarkable discrepancies to which I ought to draw the reader’s attention. 64

See Mathews 2002, pp. 5–9; Thomson 1982, pp. 139–140 and Thomson 1975, pp. 457–460. The primary sources that provide most of the information on this topic are Koriwn’s Life of Maštoc‘, in particular, III, VII, and XIX, and ŁP, p. 255 [192]. 65 For specific details, see Thomson 1975, pp. 460–466; for the most recent discussion of the corpus Chrysostomicum in the Armenian tradition, see Bonfiglio 2020. 66 See, for instance, the studies by E. Ter-Minasyan (2009, pp. 13–58), L. Leloir (1966), L. Ter-Petrosyan (1984), and E.G. Mathews (2002), amongst others, who have significantly extended our knowledge of and brought greater clarity to this subject. For a more recent discussion, see also Calzolari 2012. 67 Harvey 1993, p. 289. 68 Ibid., p. 291. 69 Ibid., p. 295.



Regarding early Greco-Roman Christian tradition Averil Cameron has argued that the fourth-century Christian and pagan authors fought a battle over “the right to interpret the past”70 and, in spite of the works by Eusebius and Ammianus that appeared in the fourth century, the former also being very popular in Armenia, Christians failed to make historiography a powerful tool of their propaganda.71 This, however, was not the case in the Armenian tradition, for the most influential earliest Christian Armenian texts, which were conceived as histories dealing with the past and present, appeared on the stage relatively uncontested, only being challenged by the oral culture, which, nevertheless, was quickly absorbed and incorporated in the Christian narrative, as the Epic Histories and the Christianisation stories suggest. Furthermore, Elizabeth Clark has on many occasions demonstrated that in western Christianity the discourse of power, created and endorsed by the patristic writers, mainly relied on “biblical myths and historical narratives in creating models of submission”, or, borrowing from John Thompson, “‘strategies of containment,’ for female audiences”.72 Techniques such as stereotyping, universalizing, and naturalizing of “woman”73 were commonly used to denigrate women and justify their subordinate position in relation to men. Nonetheless, in early Christian Armenian sources such evidence of blatant discrimination against women is absent. The Armenian authors do deploy biblical allusions, metaphors, and intertextual readings of other sources but they either altogether abandon and reinterpret the rhetoric and arguments of the Church Fathers regarding the role and position of women in the church, or, as we shall see for instance in the case of Eve and the original sin, they downplay the importance of the argument by providing an alternative, and often a more positive for women, interpretation of the issue. These selective readings of the important Christian texts by the early Christian Armenian authors are, to my mind, the most intriguing and revealing aspects of the discussed texts. Another relevant point that should be made here is related to the Armenian language and, more specifically, to the absence of grammatical (linguistic) gender in Armenian, as is the case with the Parthian, which was the language of the Zoroastrian brethren of the Arsacid kings of Armenia. In contrast to Greek and Syriac, from which the first translations of Christian texts were made, in the Armenian versions the gender-specific connotations of most concepts were generally lost. There were, of course, certain exceptions with the words 70 71 72 73

Cameron 1991, p. 138. Ibid., pp. 138–141. Clark 2004, p. 176 and 1994, pp. 157–158. See Clark 1994.



that clearly denoted women agents, such as մայր (mother) and աղախին (female servant). Moreover, a productive feminine suffix -ուհի was occasionally added to nouns to highlight the femininity of the person described, like in the case of մարգարէ (prophet) + -ուհի = մարգարէուհի (prophetess). An interesting example to consider is the word առաքեալ (plural առաքեալք) ‘apostle’, which corresponded to the Greek ἀπόστολος, with masculine singular ending -ος and with masculine plural ending –οι. In Agat‘angełos’ History of the Armenians, for instance, առաքեալ was used to refer to both male and female apostles.74 Nevertheless, the feminine առաքելուհի also existed and is attested in Movsēs Xorenac‘i’s History of the Armenians with reference to Hṙip‘simē’s companion Nunē, the evangeliser of the Georgians and other Caucasian peoples, though Xorenac‘i is uncertain whether it is the appropriate term to be used in this context.75 In medieval sources the word առաքելուհի is also found in the eleventh-twelfth century Armenian translation of the Miracles of Thecla: it is mentioned with reference to St Thecla several times in the text, including the title.76 We should therefore be mindful of this characteristic feature of the Armenian language when dealing with certain religious concepts and social roles, which inevitably bore a gender-specific connotation in Greek and Syriac.77 Finally, it should be underscored that all the Armenian texts of the fifth century that will be discussed here belonged to the mainstream literature of the Armenian Church. In the Greco-Roman tradition and, to a lesser degree, in the Syriac one, the texts where women featured and played important and usually subversive roles formed part mainly of the apocryphal literature, whereas in the Armenian tradition these texts were created and propagated by the 74 Aa §572: ըստ խրատու սոցին առաքելակցին ձերոց առաքելոցս՝ մեծին Պաւղոսի; “according to the instruction of the companion apostle to these apostles of yours [i.e. Hṙip‘simē and her martyred companions], the great Paul” (for the discussion of this episode, see Chapter 3). 75 MX, II.86: Զոր համարձակիմ ասել, [Նունէն] առաքելուհի եղեալ քարոզեաց ի Կղարջաց սկսեալ առ դրամբք Ալանաց եւ Կասբից մինչեւ ի սահմանս Մասքթաց, որպէս ուսուցանէ քեզ Ագաթանգեղոս; “We make bold to say that she

became an apostle. She preached beginning from Kḷarjk‘ to the gates of the Alans and the Caspians, as far as the borders of the Massagate, as Agathangelos informs you.” 76 Calzolari 2017, pp. 128–129, 429, 441, 449, and 485. 77 For the importance of grammatical gender in the representation of religious concepts, see, for instance, Hanne Løland’s recent research on gender and language within the context of Hebrew and the Hebrew Bible, and more specifically on the gender of God in the Jewish tradition (Løland 2008, especially pp. 75–90). On a few peculiarities of gendered Christian terminology in Syriac, see Harvey 1993, pp. 289–290. Rose (2015, p. 275) also touches upon this topic in her discussion of gender in Zoroastrianism (see Chapter 1).



official church. This distinction is especially revealing when dealing with the characters of Hṙip‘simē and Sanduxt, who play crucial roles in the narratives of Armenia’s Christianisation, because their characters, as it has convincingly been demonstrated by Valentina Calzolari,78 were modelled on Thecla, the heroine of the apocryphal Acts of Paul and Thecla. As Calzolari points out, after the fourth century the subversive elements of Thecla’s character, especially her apostolic role, were largely downplayed by the Church Fathers in favour of stressing her sanctity based on her virginal state.79 The discussion of Hṙip‘simē and Sanduxt’s representations in Part 2 will show that in this case, too, the Armenian authors were selective in the adoption of the views of the Church Fathers and actually chose to espouse the ‘transgressive’ model of Thecla for their portrayal of their female protagonists. 7

Structure of the Book

The structure of this book reflects the approach outlined above. The first part focuses on the sociocultural context in which the texts under scrutiny were produced. Although very little or virtually nothing is known about the personal circumstances of each author, the political and social developments that they discuss and express opinions about allow us to extract information about their milieu, education, political allegiances, mentality, and occasionally about their agenda. However, the discussion of the context is by no means limited to the fifth century. Most importantly, Armenia had had strong political and cultural ties with the Iranian oikoumene for about a millennium before Christianisation and most importantly shared with the Iranians their religious beliefs. Despite the country’s official adoption of the new religion, in the fifth century many Armenians were still followers of Zoroastrianism and the struggle of the ecclesiastical authorities against it is closely reflected in the surviving sources. The fifth-century authors would attack the Zoroastrian mores and beliefs that persisted in society and were not compatible with the tenets of the church, endeavouring to eradicate and substitute them with new, Christian values and practices. It is therefore crucial to discuss the position of women in pre-Christian religious beliefs of the Armenians in order to understand the discourse of the Christian authors regarding this issue. The second part explores the representation of women in the extant sources, discussing the ways gender relations and roles are constructed through 78 Calzolari 2017, pp. 49–80. 79 Ibid., pp. 50 and 59.



various narrative techniques. In particular, I take a close look at the two conversion narratives, which have become the received traditions of Armenia’s Christianisation influencing the self-definition of the generations to come, and explore the ways in which the position of women in the church is conceptualised and what roles women are ascribed in society by the new religion. It is interesting to see how the Armenian authors present the values of the new religion and define specific gender roles by selectively adapting to the Armenian reality the concepts and the ideology articulated by the prominent voices in the Churches of the East and the West. The third part continues to explore the rhetorically embellished complex discourse on women and goes beyond it to retrieve, where the sources allow, evidence of women’s experience and the avenues of their agency. In particular, I investigate the spaces where women appear and their actions which were deemed worthy of being mentioned. What options did women have in their lives? What roles and duties were assigned to them by society? Moreover, I discuss the church canons of the Šahapivan Council, which provide us with a considerable insight into existing marriage patterns and certain social practices in which women took part. This part is concluded by the analysis of passages where women encounter violence, which elucidates certain aspects of the value system of people in this period of history. 8

Brief Overview of the Primary Sources

The texts discussed in the present study have been selected according to three criteria: they were originally composed in Armenian,80 contain frequent references to women, and were written in the fifth century or at its turn. On the basis of these criteria a number of texts which are translations from other languages,81 or which cannot be put safely in the defined period, have not 80

In the case of the Martyrdom of St Šušanik, this criterion cannot be satisfied with absolute certainty, for there is also a Georgian text from the same period, which some scholars claim to be the original account of the martyrdom, and the Armenian one a translation from it. However, Paruyr Muradyan’s extensive comparative study of both the Armenian and Georgian texts concludes that with extant evidence it is impossible to establish the original language of the Martyrdom, for the milieu in which it appeared was bilingual, and the possibility that it was composed in either of the languages should not be overlooked (Muradyan 1996, pp. 181–182). 81 Some of the translated texts contain creative and adaptive elements that may provide invaluable information about various issues related to the topic of this study (see, for instance, Chapter 4 in connection with Nicene Canon III). However, including the discussion of all translated texts would go beyond the scope of the present research, for,



been given detailed consideration here. The most important among these texts is undoubtedly the History of the Armenians by Movsēs Xorenac‘i, which covers the period from the birth of the Armenian nation to the abolition of the Arsacid rule in Armenia. Opinions are divided, to say the least, concerning the date when Xorenac‘i created his History. Some scholars accept Xorenac‘i’s claim that he was St Maštoc‘’s disciple and lived in the fifth century,82 but several recent studies have maintained, and rightfully so, that the text that has reached us is an eighth-century or a later edition, for it contains a large number of interpolations and discrepancies.83 The latter assertion, however, does not rule out the possibility that Xorenac‘i lived in the fifth century, and that his oeuvre was extensively edited at a later period. As accurately assessed by Annie and Jean-Pierre Mahé, Sans aucun doute, malgré tous les anachronismes et les erreurs historiques qu’on y relève, l’Histoire de l’Arménie se révèle, bien au-delà de la construction ingénieuse de l’auteur qui l’a conçue, être un témoignage capital, profondément enraciné dans l’archéologie et dans la mémoire collective arméniennes. On pourrait même soutenir que certaines de ses erreurs ne font que confirmer davantage son authenticité, puisqu’elles sont caractéristiques des sources folkloriques auxquelles l’auteur les a directement puisées.84 This is why Xorenac‘i’s references to fourth- and fifth-century Armenia are still used from a comparative perspective to expand where possible on what other sources present. Other important fifth-century texts, such as Eznik of Kołb’s On God and Koriwn’s Life of Maštoc‘ as well as theological writings attributed to religious figures such as Yovhan Mandakuni, Mambrē Vercanoł, and others, contain few or no references to women. These texts are therefore deployed only to offer glimpses into the historical context of the period and the socio-cultural practices of Armenian people. The sources that have been used in the present study primarily focus on events related to fourth- and fifth-century Armenia. They can be divided

82 83 84

inter alia, it would involve a comparative study of the original texts and their translation, which is a separate research project in itself. See, for instance, Sargsyan 1973; Muradyan 1990; Topchyan 2006. See Thomson’s introduction in MX, pp. 58–60, and Garsoïan 2003–2004, p. 44. For a more balanced approach that highlights the issues relating to the proposed dates of Xorenac‘i’s work, see Annie and Pierre Mahé’s 1993 introduction to the French translation of the text. Mahé and Mahé 1993, p. 24. See also Zekiyan 2000, pp. 189–191.



into two types: historical narratives (Agat‘angełos’ History, The Martyrdom of St Thaddeus and St Sanduxt, The Epic Histories, Ełišē’s History, Łazar’s History, The Martyrdom of St Šušanik) that relate and interpret historical events from a specific perspective using a wide variety of literary techniques, and one historical document (Canons of the Council of Šahapivan), which contains a fairly accurate description of the current situation in society and provides solutions that comply with the demands of the ideology represented by the Armenian Church. These historical narratives were composed by religious men who relied upon the support and patronage of a noble family and who strove to express the aspirations of the circles to which they belonged. With the exception of the Martyrdom of St Šušanik and a part of Agat‘angełos’ History, these texts are about men, whereas women appear in them only occasionally. Although each writer has a specific project in mind, there are several ideologically important concepts – for instance, the customary law (awrēnk‘), the covenant of the church (uxt ekełec‘woy), hereditary rights, masculine valour (k‘aǰut‘iwn) and so on – with which all these works, to some extent, are concerned. They also reveal a similarity in the technique deployed to present these ideas: the representation of historical events, various social groups, and individuals is invariably accompanied by an evaluation of their ethical value for society. Furthermore, in order to facilitate the process of transition from the old religion to the new one, the leaders of the Armenian Church were compelled to appropriate certain pagan traditions, cults, and concepts which did not contradict Christian tenets.85 Writing texts was one of the means of spreading knowledge of the new religion, but even the texts that dealt with deeply Christian concepts were not immune to the influence of pre-Christian ideas; neither was 85 A good example of this strategy is found in Agat‘angełos:  §§809–836 describe how St Gregory embarks on his mission of building churches and baptising people, and, as it appears from this narrative, the first Armenian churches were built on the places of former pagan sanctuaries, and St Gregory “fixed the date for celebrating the commemoration of the martyrs that he had brought as a major festival, at the time of the festival of the vain cults of the god Amanor, the bringer of new fruits, and of the god Hiwrĕnkal Vanatur, which they previously used to celebrate in that same place on the feast of New Year’s Day. [He commanded] that they should gather for the commemoration of the great and blessed John and the holy martyr of God, Athenogenes, and celebrate their festival on that day in the same town”; [սուրբ Գրիգորն] զյիշատակս վկայիցն բերելոց ժամադրեաց ի տօն մեծ հռչակել, սնոտեացն պաշտաման ի ժամանակի՝ դիցն Ամանորոյ ամենաբեր նոր պտղոց տօնին, Հիւրընկալ դիցն Վանատրի, զոր յառաջագոյն իսկ ի նմին տեղւոջ պաշտէին յուրախութեան Նաւասարդ աւուր: Զի ժողովեալ ի յիշատակ մեծի երանելւոյն Յովհաննու եւ սրբոյ վկային Աստուծոյ Աթանագինէի՝ աւուր խմբեալ ի նմին յաւանին տօնեսցեն (§836).



the representation of female characters. Through their moralising narratives Armenian authors attempted to present a reinterpreted image of women and men placed within the framework of Christian faith and the ideological background of pre-Christian Armenian society. A note should also be made regarding the target audience of these texts. There are a number of reasons to assume that they were composed not only for clerics, but also, if not primarily, for female and male audiences of the noble households. For one thing, alongside noblemen most of the texts feature prominent female characters whose representations evince a clear intention to provide women with role models to emulate. Moreover, in addition to the possibility of being exposed to these texts in the church, there is sufficient evidence that women had access to education and could read the works of Armenian authors by themselves.86 Finally, considering the lifestyle of the Armenian nobility, a certain level of learnedness was undoubtedly required for the noblewomen to manage entire households and regulate the initial education of their children.87 The following brief overview of the texts that are the primary focus of this book, followed by a summary of the main themes and the plot, is intended for readers unfamiliar with the early Christian Armenian literature. It should also be added that no attempt has been made to trace the complicated textual transmission of these texts or to discuss the contentious issues surrounding them, for it is outside the scope of this book. Instead, the most important studies that deal with these matters have been referred to in the footnotes. 8.1 Agat‘angełos’ History of the Armenians The History of the Armenians by Agat‘angełos is perhaps the most important fifth-century Armenian text to provide the account of Armenia’s Christianisation. Its author, who calls himself Agat‘angełos (Gk. “the one who brings good tidings”), is an enigmatic figure. He claims to be an eyewitness to the events that he recounts, but there is sufficient evidence to place him in the 460s,88 when the orally transmitted stories of Armenia’s conversion were collected and edited, though some written sources in other languages might also have been deployed by the author. Who is hidden behind the name of Agat‘angełos is unknown, but there is no doubt that he was a cleric of great erudition, for 86

In the Martyrdom of St Šušanik, for instance, the heroine is said to be spending all night “praying and singing psalms and reading divine texts”; եւ գիշերն ամենայն յաղաւթս եւ ի սաղմոսերգութիւնս եւ յընթերցմունս աստուածային գրոց անցուցանէին

87 88

(Muradyan 1996, p. 20 (III)). For this role of women within the family, see Chapter 5. Thomson 1976, p. xc; Winkler 1980, p. 125.



his text is full of references and allusions to various works of Greek and Syriac Fathers narrated in a beautiful, at some points poetic and rhetorically sophisticated language. Most scholars agree that the extant two recensions of the text, from which the others derived, were originally written in Armenian and were later edited and adapted to the needs of the times and circumstances.89 The standardised reference system to various recensions of Agat‘angełos’ work proposed by Gérard Garitte is used in the present work.90 Garitte identified the two main groups as the A recension, to which the extant Armenian text (Aa) and its Greek translation (Ag) belong, and the V recension, from French Vie (Life [of St Gregory]), which refers to the lost Armenian original and its derivatives in Arabic, Greek, Syriac, Karshuni, and other languages (e.g. Va, Vg, Vs, Vk). The Armenian version (Aa), to which most of our references will be made in the present work, became the main text of the tradition that was supported and propagated by the Armenian Church, and it had a tremendous influence on the self-definition and mentality of Armenian people in subsequent centuries. As the numerous medieval translations into other languages evince, its popularity spread to the neighbouring peoples and beyond, too. Agat‘angełos begins his narrative in 224 ce, when the Sasanian dynasty seizes the throne of Persia from the Parthian Arsacid dynasty, whose junior branch was ruling over Armenia. In retaliation, the King of Armenia Xosrov attempts to take revenge on the usurper but is himself assassinated at the hands of a Persian noble called Anak. The Armenian nobles then kill Anak and all the members of his family except for his two sons who manage to escape. One of them is taken to Cappadocia, where he is raised as a Christian and receives the name Gregory (Arm. Grigor91). When Xosrov’s son Trdat becomes the king of Armenia, Gregory secretly enters his service, wishing to expiate the crime of his father. During a Zoroastrian ceremony attended by the king, Gregory refuses to worship the goddess Anahit and reveals the fact that he is a Christian, for which he is brutally tortured, but remains steadfast in his faith. The king is then informed that Gregory is the son of Anak, who caused his father’s death, and Trdat orders that Gregory be thrown into a deep pit full of poisonous snakes so that he will meet his end there. 89 90 91

On the textual transmission of this important work, see Thomson’s introductions to the 1976 and 2010 English translation of Agat‘angełos’ History, as well as Topchyan 2005, Winkler 1980, and Garitte 1946. See Garitte 1946, pp. 1–19. The anglicised variant of Grigor’s name ‘Gregory’ is used in the present study for the sake of convenience, for it appears in the English translation of Agat‘angełos’ oeuvre by Robert Thomson as well as in most scholarly works in the English language.



The narrative continues with the story of the martyrdom of the Roman nun Hṙip‘simē and her companions. After seeing the portrait of Hṙip‘simē, Emperor Diocletian falls in love with her and wishes to marry her, but the virgin encouraged by the abbess of the monastery, Gayianē, rejects the marriage proposal and, escorted by other nuns, flees to Armenia. Here, it is King Trdat’s turn to become infatuated with Hṙip‘simē, but she spurns the expression of his passion, too. Then the infuriated king orders Hṙip‘simē and her companions to be tortured to death. Divine punishment subsequently befalls the whole of Armenia: the king turns into a wild boar and many people lose their minds. At this point an angel of the Lord appears to the king’s sister Xosroviduxt in her dream and tells her that only Gregory, who has been in the pit for 13 years already, can redeem the country from the sin of killing the servants of God. Gregory is brought back and cures the afflicted king and people by converting them to Christianity, thus becoming the Illuminator (Lusavorič‘) of Armenia. What follows is a very long sermon (the Teaching) by Gregory on Christian faith, which forms a large part of the text. Then, with the support of the king and the nobility, Gregory has martyria erected in three locations where the virgins were martyred. The pagan shrines are destroyed and churches are built throughout the country. Gregory is consecrated in Caesarea and, accompanied by King Trdat himself, visits Constantinople. In 325 Gregory delegates his son, Aristakēs, who will later ascend the throne of his father, to represent the Armenian Church at the council of Nicaea. Some remarks should be made about the genre of Agat‘angełos’ work. Since the History is a composite work in which several narratives, most likely created and circulated independently from each other, were merged into one cohesive account,92 conventions of various literary genres are discernible in it. According to Thomson, for instance, the Teaching belongs to the “genre of catechetical instruction”;93 Garsoïan94 and, following her, Pogossian95 have identified the Martyrdom with the hagiographic genre of « la passion épique » as defined by Hippolyte Delehaye.96 By deploying Delehaye’s categorisation, Garsoïan has pointed out the following characteristics of the genre in Agat‘angełos’ work: the persecuting emperor – preferably Diocletian – and his edicts; the solemn and lengthy trial before the ruler in person – if possible; the dialogue 92 93 94 95 96

Thomson 1976, p. lviii. Thomson 2010, pp. 13–15. Garsoïan 1982, p. 152. Pogossian 2003, pp. 361–362. Delehaye 1921, pp. 236–315.



between the judge and the martyr alternating the blandishments and threats of the one and the rhetorical homilies and fulsome prayers composed of a tissue of scriptural quotations of the other; the almost ludicrously horrifying torments inflicted on the martyr, and his miraculous survival; the punishment of the persecutors; the supernatural voices and visions; and, most important, the faithful secretary taking down his eyewitness account …97 Although Delehaye dismissed the historical value of the works of this genre by referring to them as « productions artificielles »,98 these works undoubtedly contain important information about the milieu of their production if studied within the historical context which prompted their creation at that specific place and time.99 Moreover, in Agat‘angełos’ History the superiority of the new religion is unveiled by means of direct criticism of the old religion, which provides remarkable insights into how the religious beliefs of the Zoroastrian Armenians were perceived in Christian circles. Agat‘angełos’ History is therefore crucial for understanding the development of Christian Armenian ideology and the attitude of the ecclesiastical authorities towards women’s functions and roles in society. The Martyrdom and the Discovery of Relics of St Thaddeus the Apostle and of the Virgin Sanduxt As yet there is no critical edition of the Martyrdom of St Thaddeus and Sanduxt and the surviving evidence does not permit us to date this important text with certainty.100 The possible dates of composition that have been suggested vary from the fifth to seventh century, though the fifth-century hypothesis seems to be the most plausible one.101 Not only does this hagiographic text create a link between the establishment of the Armenian Church and the mission of Christ’s Apostles, but it also promotes the Syriac strand of Armenian Christianity. As


97 98 99

Garsoïan 1982, p. 152. Delehaye 1921, p. 236. Strangely enough, Garsoïan (1982, pp. 151–152) also refers to this type of narration as “the most formulaic and unhistorical hagiographic form” which was deployed by Agat‘angełos in the Vitae of St Gregory and the Hṙip‘simian virgins, even though in her article she makes an important discovery that concerns the target audience of Agat‘angełos’ work. 100 The text was first published anonymously in Sop‘erk‘ Haykakank‘ 8 (1853) with the title Vkayabanut‘iwn ew Giwt Nšxarac‘ S. T‘adēi Aṙak‘eloy ew Sandxtoy Kusi (The Martyrdom and the Discovery of the Relics of St Thaddeus the Apostle and of the Virgin Sanduxt), hereinafter referred to as MartThad. 101 See Akinean’s (1969–1970) discussion of each hypothesis, though Akinean himself was the proponent of a later date.



has been shown by Calzolari, the Armenian narrative is neatly interwoven with the Syriac Doctrine of Addai, translated into Armenian in the fifth century,102 and it contains a number of passages « qui affichent clairement un sentiment national arménien ».103 The MartThad draws heavily on earlier hagiographic and apocryphal textual patterns, especially on the Acts of the Apostles.104 The Armenian author readily adapts the narratives, with which he is well acquainted, to accomplish his objective of granting the Armenian Church an Apostolic status. At the same time his portrayal of the female protagonist, Sanduxt, most revealingly contains fine details that set her apart from other heroines of early Christian texts. The Armenian narrative begins in Urha (Edessa), where St Thaddeus travels after Christ’s ascension into heaven, and where he cures and converts King Abgar and many of his subjects. The apostle then crosses the border with Armenia and arrives at the court of King Sanatruk in the town of Šawaršan in the province of Artaz, where he begins preaching and working miracles. Multitudes of people are converted and baptised. Sanatruk’s daughter Sanduxt becomes the most ardent follower of the apostle among them. The king, however, implacably opposes Christianity and persecutes all Christians, including his daughter and St Thaddeus. Needless to say, neither threats, nor imprisonment daunt Sanduxt, who is eventually martyred by order of the king. Her death is followed by the manifestation of the divine presence, which leads to the conversion of 2,000 people. The story ends with the martyrdom of St Thaddeus, and the conversion of another 3,433 women and men. The MartThad, like Agat‘angełos’ account of the martyrdom of the Hṙip‘simian virgins, belongs to the genre of epic passion. Despite the fact that it contains no factual information, it still reflects the value system of the Armenian clergy. The agency with which they provide Sanduxt in the narrative is quite revealing, for she is allowed to do things, such as teaching in public and converting people, which are not commonly described in contemporary works. 8.3 The Epic Histories The Epic Histories attributed to P‘awstos Buzand, otherwise known as Buzan­ daran Patmut‘iwnk‘ or P‘awstosi Buzandac‘woy Patmut‘iwn Hayoc‘ (P‘awstos Buzandac‘i’s History of the Armenians), is our most valuable source for the social, political, and cultural history of fourth-century Arsacid Armenia. It is a 102 Calzolari 2011a, pp. 32–38. 103 Ibid., p. 44. 104 See the discussion in Akinean 1970, pp. 1–34, in particular pp. 3–10, and Calzolari 2011a, pp. 27–49, 171–172.



rich compilation of epic stories105 which was orally transmitted from generation to generation by gusans (bards), and which was put together in writing in ca 470s.106 As highlighted by Garsoïan, the Epic Histories was most likely composed by an anonymous “cleric familiar with the Armenian version of the Basilian liturgy and deeply concerned with ecclesiastical affairs”,107 probably “a native of the southwestern district of Tarōn because of his unreserved devotion to the Mamikonean lords of the district and to its holy site of Aštišat, which he invariably presents as the original center of Armenian Christianity”.108 It also reflects “the manners and values of an aristocratic and military society” of fifth-century Armenia.109 The Buzandaran Patmut‘iwnk‘ covers the period between the rule of King Xosrov Kotak in ca 330 ce and the partition of Armenia between the Roman Empire and Sasanian Iran in 387 ce. This collection of stories makes it clear that in the fourth century Armenia was in a precarious position between the two great empires of the time and often had to endure their aggressive policies. The king and the leading nobles would normally vacillate between remaining largely autonomous and giving their allegiance to the Romans or the Persians, the latter option being directly linked to choosing between Christianity and Zoroastrianism. After the peace treaty of 363 ce between the Emperor Jovian and King of Kings Šapuh, most of Greater Armenia was left to the mercy of the Persians and was soon ravaged.110 However, a relatively less turbulent period of several decades emerged after the country was divided in 387 ce. Garsoïan, concurring with Malxasyanc‘,111 has identified three main parallel narrative threads in the histories: “The Royal History, covering the reigns of the last Aršakuni kings”, “The Ecclesiastical History providing the only detailed account of the hereditary succession, with brief interruptions, of the patriarchs from the house of St Gregory the Illuminator”, and “The Mamikonean History” glorifying the valour and dedication of this clan to the Armenian realm.112 These threads evince the compiler’s preoccupation with the public space. It is therefore crucial, as well as extremely compelling, to examine representations of noblewomen who enter this space and modify it with their agency. Among the numerous accounts of men’s acts of bravery and cowardice, righteousness and inequity, holiness and wickedness, loyalty and betrayal, the 105 EH, p. 14 and Malxasyanc‘ 1968, pp. 44–46. 106 EH, p. 11. 107 Ibid., p. 15. 108 Ibid., p. 16. 109 Ibid., p. 32. 110 See ibid., IV.lv–lix. 111 Malxasyanc‘ 1968, pp. 46–53. 112 EH, pp. 2–3.



anonymous compiler of the histories also includes references to several noblewomen. The representation of Queen P‘aṙanjem and Queen Zarmanduxt, in particular, provides us with unique insights into the extent of authority and power exercised by the Arsacid Armenian queens. 8.4 Ełišē’s History of Vardan and the Armenian War Although Robert Thomson believes that Ełišē’s text is “an extensive adaptation” of Łazar P‘arpec‘i’s History, most likely composed “in the last decade of the sixth century or later,”113 the existing arguments placing Ełišē in the second half of the fifth century seem to me more convincing.114 This work is therefore treated here as an account of an eyewitness, a claim made by Ełišē himself on several occasions.115 What can be considered as factual information about Ełišē’s life is found in his History, though some anecdotal evidence has also been preserved in later tradition. On the basis of this material Manuk Abełyan suggested that Ełišē was born in ca 420116 and was initially a soldier of the Armenian regiment serving Yazkert, and after the revolt of 451 he became a cleric.117 He was one of St Maštoc‘ and St Sahak’s disciples well versed in the scriptures and languages.118 The strikingly beautiful images that he creates reveal a very subjective view on the events he describes but also a genuine literary talent second to none of his contemporaries. The significance of Ełišē’s History for the study of the portrayal of women in early Armenian literature is two-fold: firstly, it contains a large number of references to the lived experience of fifth-century women, and, secondly, it has preserved an exquisite encomium to women, which extols the traits of character, such as untiring perseverance and nobleness of self, which Ełišē and his milieu valued and promoted. As far as the storyline is concerned, Ełišē’s main focus is on the Armenian revolt of 450–451 against the repressive religious policy of the Persian King Yazkert II, and on its bleak aftermath. According to Ełišē, Yazkert, on his magi’s advice, adopts a policy of uniting the peoples of his empire under the 113 See Ełišē, p. 27, as well as pp. 22–26 for the discussion of the arguments of Babken Kiwleserean and Nerses Akinean, who also support a later date of composition. 114 For a detailed study of these arguments and the critique of the sixth-century (and later) hypothesis, see Pane 2009, pp. 12–17; Zekiyan 1997; Ananean 1991; Ter-Minasyan 1971, pp. 128–194, and Abełyan 1968b, pp. 325–328. 115 See, for instance, Ełišē, pp. 59 [5], 69 [15], 150 [99], and 244 [199–200]. 116 Pane (2009, p. 13) and Ter-Minasyan (1971, p. 122) suggest the date 410/415. 117 Abełyan 1968b, p. 324. This career path resembles that of St Maštoc‘ (ca 362–440), the inventor of the Armenian alphabet, and might have been a common practice at the time. 118 Ter-Minasyan 1971, p. 121.



Zoroastrian religion. In order to implement his plan, the king introduces new taxes, intimidates, tortures, and bribes the Christians nobles under his jurisdiction, but most importantly he makes an attempt to subvert the existing strict hierarchical order within society, a policy which eventually backfires. He summons the prominent Armenian naxarars to the court and forces them to convert, but Ełišē stresses that in their hearts they remain steadfast in their Christian faith. On their return home, most of the naxarars rise in rebellion and attack the Persian contingents located in Armenia and Caucasian Albania (Ałuank‘), inflicting a heavy defeat on them. The enraged Yazkert sends a large army to suppress the rebellion and the decisive battle takes place on 26 May 451 on the plain of Avarayr (today, in the north-west of Iran), in which the Armenian army led by the sparapet (commander-in-chief) Vardan Mamikonean is defeated, and 1,036 Armenian soldiers, amongst whom there were several leading magnates of the country, including the sparapet himself, perish.119 The country is subsequently devastated, and the remaining Christian princes and the leaders of the Armenian Church are imprisoned in Persia, where they stay until ca 463. Nevertheless, the loss of a large number of Persian and Armenian elect soldiers and nobles urges Yazkert to abandon his plans of conversion. Thomson rightfully considers Ełišē’s narrative “a carefully constructed piece of literary work”120 which is an “interpretation”121 of the historical events of the mid fifth century. Furthermore, he has convincingly shown that Ełišē heavily relies on certain biblical models in his attempt to conceptualise and contextualise the revolt of Armenian princes and their martyrdom on the plain of Avarayr. In particular, Ełišē draws clear parallels between the situation in Armenia at the time of the rebellion and afterwards, and that of the Jews as described in the books of the Maccabees.122 His narrative is also imbued with references to and direct quotation from the Bible,123 various hagiographic texts,124 and several theological treatises that have been preserved in Armenian.125

119 The Armenian Church canonised Vardan Mamikonean and his companions who fell in the battle, and the feast of these saints is commemorated on the Thursday of the last week before Great Lent. For the history of this feast, see Sargsyan et al. 2007, pp. 20–27. 120 Ełišē, p. 9. 121 Ibid., p. 25. A similar idea was earlier expressed by Abełyan (1968b, pp. 335–337). 122 For a detailed study of this comparison, see Ełišē, pp. 11–16. 123 Ibid., pp. 16–17. For the analysis of Ełišē’s references to the Bible, see Zeytounian 1980. 124 Ełišē, pp. 17–21. For the study of Ełišē’s use of hagiographic material, see Nalbandyan 1997. 125 Ełišē, pp. 21–22, 27–29.



With a conscious use of all these patterns Ełišē constructs a highly elaborate and stylised narrative aimed at teaching its recipients moral lessons and creating idealised role models.126 He explores several themes that reflect his understanding of an ideology with clearly ethnic features127 and the place of an individual in it. Ełišē’s main objective is to convince his audience, primarily representatives of the upper class, that what distinguishes Armenians from other peoples is their “ancestral and divinely bestowed awrēnk‘,” which is to be upheld through a “covenant [uxt] of the church” that implies “loyalty to God and country”; thus, “Patriotism and Christian faith are inextricably intertwined.”128 The righteous members of the community show virtue and adhere to the holy covenant, whereas apostasy causes secession,129 and as Ełišē emphasises, “where discord penetrates, at the breaking up of unity heavenly virtue also departs.”130 In addition, the rebellion of the Armenians should be perceived as a struggle for truth which will be suppressed should the Armenian people abandon the holy covenant.131 Most notably, the category of gender plays no role in the propaganda of these ideologically charged concepts. For Ełišē there are only two categories: ‘us’, who struggle for the preservation of our ancestral awrēnk‘, and ‘them’, who are the enemies of truth and foes of the awrēnk‘. The gender of people does not determine their adherence to one group or the other, but because the struggle between them takes place only in the public sphere, predominantly men feature in the narrative.

126 For a more detailed discussion of these aspects of Ełišē’s work, see, Nalbandyan 1997, pp. 154–156, and Abełyan 1968b, pp. 338–343. 127 There can be no doubt that Ełišē specifically refers to a national, “Armenian” ideology, for he constantly uses the epithet Hayoc‘ (Armenian) in a variety of contexts, including the title, throughout the text to emphasise the ‘Armenianness’ of the phenomenon he describes. 128 Ełišē, p. 10. See also, Nalbandyan 1997, p. 148. For textual references to these concepts, see Ełišē, pp. 133 [82], 154 [102], 230 [184], 241 [197] (հայրենի հաւատք / աւրէնք); pp. 62 [7–8], 76 [23], 92 [41], 101 [50], “Chapter 3: Concerning the Unity of the Holy Covenant of the Church” (105–140 [54–88]), 142 [90], 147–148 [95], 151 [99], 158 [106], 175 [123], 179 [127], 233 [187] (ուխտ եկեղեցւոյ / հաւատոյ / քրիստոնեութեան). 129 Ibid., pp. 9–10. 130 Ibid., p. 141 [89]: ուր սպրդեալ անկանի երկպառակութիւն ի ներքս ընդ քակել միաբանութեանն՝ եւ երկնաւոր առաքինութիւնն հեռանայ. 131 Surprisingly, in his Introduction Thomson does not discuss this important issue raised by Ełišē, even though there are several references to the “truth” as a higher ideal that is in danger of being violated by its enemies: see, Ełišē, pp. 141 [89], 148 [95], 153 [101], 165 [113], 192 [141] and 239 [195]. Cf. also with ‘God’s truth’ in Aa §13.



Łazar P‘arpec‘i’s History of the Armenians and the Letter to Vahan Mamikonean Łazar P‘arpec‘i’s History of the Armenians and the Letter to Vahan Mamikonean bear witness to one of the most crucial periods in Armenian history and offer significant insight into the Christian writer’s, and ostensibly his circle’s, understanding of women’s roles and functions in society. The History closely examines the Armenian rebellions of 450–451 and 482–484 against the oppressive regional policies of Persia and the continuous struggle for religious and cultural independence, which reaches a satisfactory resolution with the compromise of Nuarsak in 484 and the subsequent appointment of Vahan Mamikonean as the marzpan of Armenia.132 The Letter, on the other hand, focuses on the personal relationships between the author and Vahan Mamikonean, and supplies details on Łazar’s life and on the state of affairs in the religious circles of the country. Both texts contain references to women, most of whom Łazar knew personally, and even though many representations in his narratives are ideologically charged and pursue specific purposes, his descriptions of women reveal genuine patterns of ‘real’ female experience. Łazar’s oeuvre consists of the History, divided into three parts, and the Letter appended to it. According to the author, his work should be perceived as a natural continuation of Agat‘angełos’ History and of the Epic Histories.133 The narration commences with a brief summary of the two texts and the main history begins in ca 387, where the Epic Histories ends. Łazar demonstrates considerable knowledge of his predecessors’ works, though his interpretation of events is not always on a par with theirs.134 The narrative continues with the description of the historical and political conditions in which the Arsacid rule is abolished and with the consequences of the death of St Sahak and St Maštoc‘ for the spiritual life of the country. Part two is dedicated to the Armenian revolt under the command of the sparapet Vardan Mamikonean and the aforementioned battle of Avarayr. The third part covers the period of guerrilla warfare in which the contingents of several Armenian naxarar families gather around Vahan Mamikonean, the nephew of the martyred Vardan, and confront the Persian forces which were sent to subdue the disobedient magnates. Finally, the Letter, addressed to marzpan Vahan Mamikonean and written before 8.5

132 The marzpan exercised wide administrative power as a regional governor and was installed by the Persian king as his representative on the given territory. For more details, see Adontz 1970, pp. 165–182. 133 ŁP, pp. 33–39 [1–6]. 134 For instance, Łazar attaches more importance to the involvement of St Sahak in the creation of the Armenian alphabet than Koriwn does, who emphasises St Maštoc‘’s contribution (ibid., pp. 46–52 [13–18]).



the composition of the History, is Łazar’s desperate plea for support against his slanderers.135 It is not feasible to determine the exact date of Łazar’s History, but the internal textual evidence points to the end of the fifth and the beginning of the sixth century.136 This period is characterised by a relative political and social stability in the country, during which the Armenian Church was gradually strengthening its position in society, thus contributing to the process of forging Christian Armenian identity. It also marks the end of a very tumultuous century in Armenian history that found its reflection in Łazar’s work. Unlike other early Christian Armenian authors, we have valuable information about Łazar P‘arpec‘i’s life, which has primarily been preserved in his autobiographic Letter. Its content allows us to assume that Łazar was of humble origin, educated as a cleric both on Greek territory and in Armenia. Albeit less eloquent than Agat‘angełos or Ełišē, his works, too, demonstrate comprehensive knowledge of the scriptures. Łazar additionally claims that he is well versed in Greek patristic literature,137 and he clearly indicates strong preference for the teaching of the Greeks over that of the Syrian Christians.138 He enjoyed the patronage of the Arcruni, Kamsarakan, and Mamikonean families at different stages of his life,139 and, as Thomson remarks, “[m]ost important of all is that he [Łazar] has left a vivid picture of the outlook of his class – or rather of the class to which he aspired – and of his time.”140 The task of writing the History was allocated to Łazar by his childhood companion and present patron Vahan Mamikonean, who was the most powerful political figure in Armenia at the time. As Łazar mentions at the beginning of his narrative, not only was Vahan “the author of many countless blessings to Armenia in the time of his own rule, and by his personal example encouraged many others,” but he also understood the importance of preserving the memory of historical events in writing for posterity.141 135 For the discussion of various themes and issues in Łazar’s History and Letter, see Thomson’s Introduction to the 1991 English edition (ŁP, pp. 1–31); see also Alek‘sanyan 1987 and Yuzbašyan 1983. 136 ŁP, pp. 33–34 [1–2], 247–249 [185–186]. 137 Ibid., p. 255 [192]; see also Thomson’s Introduction (ibid., pp. 23–26). 138 Ibid., p. 50 [16]. 139 Ibid., pp. 38 [5], 250 [187–188]. 140 Ibid., p. 5. 141 Ibid., pp. 37–38 [5]: Որում արթնամիտ խորհրդականութեամբ ուշադրեալ այսմ ամենայնի մտաւոր եւ քաջ այրն Վահան տէրն Մամիկոնէից, զօրավարն Հայոց եւ մարզպանն, որ բազում եւ անհամար ուղղութեանց աշխարհիս Հայոց ի ժամանակս իշխանութեան իւրոյ եղեւ արարող, անձամբ եւ զայլս յորդորելով զբազումս: Սա որպէս եւ այլ ամենայն բարւոյ իրօք հոգացեալ



It appears that Łazar addresses his History to the representatives of all social strata of the country and his intention is unequivocal: to provide his personal evaluation of the historical events through which he lived, to foreground the most commendable deeds of his contemporaries, to expose iniquitous villains, and to create role models worthy of emulation and glorification. Łazar, like all early Christian Armenian authors, is genuinely concerned with the public sphere of activity, for his focus is on the political history of the country. All the protagonists of his History are religious figures and men of noble origin, who are presented as either adhering to the “patrimonial and natural religion” of the Armenians, or abandoning it for the sake of the “impure religion” of the Persians.142 Łazar presents the apostasy as a violation of the awrēnk‘ and he clearly differentiates between “the Christian Armenians” and “the base Armenian princes, who at that time were insolently proud of their apostasy.”143 Like Ełišē, he establishes the categories of ‘us’ and ‘them’, and defines acceptable social roles and modes of behaviour. Women, however, to whom Łazar refers occasionally, do not constitute an essential part of his ideological discourse; he primarily speaks about them in a casual manner, therefore, their portrayal contains relatively accurate information about the lived experience of women in fifth-century Armenia, although some of his comments remain ideologically coloured and reveal the deep-rooted attitudes of his circle.

զՀայաստան աշխարհի իրս` առաւել եւս զայս ի դէպ եւ պատշաճ համարեցաւ ի մնացեալ տեղւոյն պատմութեան Երկրորդ գրոցն աճեցուցանել յառաջ եւ գրել յայնմհետէ զեղեալս յաշխարհիս Հայոց; “Of all this with vigilant prudence

the thoughtful and valiant Vahan, lord of the Mamikoneank‘, general of Armenia and marzpan, was heedful. He was the author of many countless blessings to Armenia in the time of his own rule, and by his personal example encouraged many others. Just as he cared for the affairs of Armenia in every other way that tended to her benefit, even more so did he consider this appropriate and suitable to push forward and write of the affairs of Armenia from the point where the Second Book ended …” 142 ŁP, p. 59 [24]: աղտեղասէր օրէնք (literally – “obscenity-loving religion (law, set of laws)”); or p. 81 [44] – “impious religion” – օրէնք անօրէնութեան (literally – “lawless religion (law, set of laws)”. 143 Ibid., p. 172 [118]: իսկ քրիստոնեայ մարդիկն Հայոց, որ այն ամ անդ ի կռուին էին` հարեալք մաշէին առաւել եւս յարհամարհանաց եւ ի նախանձուէ ի յետին իշխանացն Հայոց, որք ուրացութեամբն գոռոզացեալ ամբարհաւաճէին ի ժամանակին, քան թէ ի բռնութենէ պարսիկ զօրագլխացն գործոց; “But the

Christian Armenians, who were that year participating in the war, were more afflicted by the disdain and rancour of the base Armenian princes, who at that time were insolently proud of their apostasy, than by the tyrannical acts of the Persian generals” (emphasis mine).



8.6 The Martyrdom of St Šušanik In the present study, the extensive Armenian redaction of the Martyrdom of St Šušanik is examined.144 It recounts the story of the final years of life and of martyrdom of Šušanik, the daughter of the hero of Avarayr, the Armenian sparapet Vardan Mamikonean. The original narrative, from which the Armenian and Georgian extensive redactions originate, was composed in ca 475–482.145 In spite of the fact that the text contains many elements of the genre of hagiography, it reflects actual historical events that are also attested in other sources.146 Šušanik is the wife of the Georgian bdeašx (prince, provincial governor) Vazgen and a mother of four children. At the beginning of the narrative, Vazgen, who is visiting the Persian court, apostatises and adopts Zoroastrianism, for which the king gives his mother-in-law in marriage to him. When she hears about this, Šušanik bewails her misery and encloses herself in a hut near the church where she fervently prays day and night. She defies the bdeašx’s authority and refuses to join him after his arrival. The local bishop and some members of the extended family try to convince Šušanik that for the sake of all people she should return to Vazgen. However, Šušanik persists with her disobedience, for which she is beaten by her husband and for some time kept in chains. This life of constant abuse and humiliations lasts for seven years, until Šušanik dies of her injuries. The Martyrdom of St Šušanik is not only a hagiographic text, but most importantly it recounts the harrowing experience of a high-ranking woman, her lived experience of domestic violence, and how this experience was perceived by people in her immediate circle. 8.7 The Canons of the Council of Šahapivan The text of the canons of the Council of Šahapivan consists of two parts: the prologue, which provides important background information about the circumstances under which the council was convened, and the twenty canons addressing a variety of social issues.147 From the prologue it becomes clear that after the abolition of the Arsacid rule and the deaths of the Patriarch St Sahak and St Maštoc‘ the state apparatus of Armenia was in crisis and lawlessness 144 For the Classical Armenian text and its translation into Modern Armenian, see Muradyan 1996, pp. 18–60. 145 Ibid., p. 177. 146 See, for instance, ŁP, p. 171 [118]. 147 All the translations of the canons from the Šahapivan collection used in the present volume are mine. I am aware of Vahan S. Hovhannesian’s translation of the entire collection in the Revue des Études Arméniennes (2016–2017), but I have chosen to keep my own translation made several years earlier while I was still working on my dissertation.



thrived. This is why “forty bishops, a large number of priests, deacons, zealous churchmen, all the clergy of the holy church, the entire nobility” including the lesser nobility and the magnates148 assembled in Šahapivan in the summer of 444, for they wished to restore the order which had been established by the Armenian Church leaders. The Šahapivan canons sought to address urgent problems which were not covered by the Apostolic and Nicene canons, and which were peculiar to Armenian reality.149 In particular, they addressed issues related to adultery among the clergy and the lay population (Canons I–III), husbands abandoning their wives (Canons IV–V), wives leaving their husbands (Canon VI), bride theft (Canon VII), witchcraft and fortune telling (Canons VIII–X), those who wail over the dead (Canon XI), incestuous and consanguineous marriages (Canons XII–XIII), priests living in spiritual marriage (Canon XIV), ascetic practices (Canon XV), several iniquities among the clergy (Canons XVI, XVIII–XX), and the relics of the saints (Canon XVII). This significant document is a source of valuable information on the social relationships within the Armenian society of the fifth century and the way in which the ecclesiastical authorities approached them. It is not difficult to notice that men and women received equal treatment by the Council, for they had to comply with the same legislation. Only the social status of a person could affect the punishment one was to suffer. For many decades the Armenian texts of the fifth century have been studied in connection with processes in which men were the only protagonists. It is high time to rectify this oversight by exploring the role of women in these processes and the contribution they made to the society. 148 Hakobyan 1964, pp. 427–428: Եւ ժողովէին եպիսկոպոսք Խ եւ երիցունք եւ սարկաւագունք բազում եւ նախանձաւոր պաշտաւնեալք եւ համաւրէն ուխտ սրբոյ եկեղեցւոյ, իշխանք ամենայն … 149 Ibid., pp. 428–429: Եւ զայս ասացեալ միաբան քահանայապետիցն, եթէ` «Առաքելական եւ Նիկիական կանոն[ք]ն հաստատուն կացցեն եւ մեք հնազանդեալ եմք, բայց որ ինչ պիտոյ է ի լրութիւն ի նոյն կանոնս, եւ մանաւանդ ի մէջ տանս Թորգոմայ եւ կողմանս արեւելեայցս»; “And this is what

the concordant chief priests said: ‘May the Apostolic and Nicene canons be firmly established and we shall obey [them], but with some additions to them required especially in the house of T‘orgom and in the eastern regions’.”

part 1 Context

chapter 1

Women in Pre-Christian Arsacid Armenia 1


Before embarking on our quest to investigate the portrayal of women in early Christian Armenian texts of the fifth century and to extract details of their lived reality, it is essential to sketch the background against which the developments introduced in Armenia by Christianity can be observed and successfully assessed. For this purpose all the fifth-century texts should be examined within the context of the ideological confrontation between the old values of pre-Christian Armenia and Christianity, in which the Christian authors were in control of the discourse. It should, nevertheless, be stressed that our examination of pre-Christian Armenian society is based on very few extant historical sources, which do not allow us to reach more nuanced conclusions. The first literary, historical, and philosophical works written in Armenian were composed to evaluate the historical path that the Armenians had followed up to that point, to glorify the heroes and to condemn the villains, to interpret the momentous events through the prism of the value system of the new religion and to attack all the practices of the older religion which were incompatible with Christianity. But more so, the authors of these texts vigorously defended and promoted symbolic forms, tenets, worldviews, and morals of the religion embraced by the upper classes which they all represented. The pressing necessity for such texts to be created and propagated arose mainly due to the lingering presence of pre-Christian beliefs amongst many Armenians. For at least nine centuries before Christianisation the Armenians followed a religion which was a complex mixture of Zoroastrianism, Indo-European, Urartian, Asianic, and Semitic religious beliefs and traditions.1 Zoroastrian 1 Russell 1987, p. v; Petrosyan 2004, pp. 205–206. Although both scholars agree that it betrays traces of various religious traditions older than Zoroastrianism, such as Indo-European, Sumero-Akkadian, and Urartian, Russell considers pre-Christian Armenian religion to be a local variant of Zoroastrianism (p. 15), while Petrosyan sees a systemic difference between the two religions and suggests that the pagan religion of Armenia was affected by Zoroastrianism only on a surface level (pp. 231–232). A more balanced approach is adopted by Zekiyan (2005, p. 235), who admits that “there can be no doubt at all of its [Zoroastrian] capillary penetration extending till the simplest strata of the Armenian population”, and yet, the “enormous Iranian impact did not dim some very original and archaic features of the Armenian pantheon” (p. 236). A similar view is also expressed by Albert de Jong (2015, pp. 119, 123–125).

© David Zakarian, 2021 | doi:10.1163/9789004445031_003


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elements were especially strong due to the political pressure of the neighbouring Zoroastrian Iranian empires, and with the accession of the junior branch of Persian Arsacids (Arm. Aršakuni) to the throne of Armenia in the first century ce Zoroastrianism became the main religion of the country. It permeated all spheres of life and largely determined people’s view of the world. As for the assimilation and spread of Christian beliefs in Armenia, it was a complicated and long process during which the old religious and traditional values persisted vigorously. It is, therefore, impossible to assess accurately the ways in which Christian Armenian authors envisaged the role of women in society without developing an adequate understanding of how the pre-Christian religion of the Armenians shaped society and its attitudes towards women.2 To form an idea about the position of women in the social structure of pre-Christian Arsacid Armenia, its beliefs, customs, and traditions I shall explore the social stratification of Armenian society, in which the institution of family constituted its principal element. Moreover, the concept of customary law, which is often referred to in moralising passages by Armenian authors, will be discussed. Finally, I will examine the representation of the feminine in Zoroastrianism, both Iranian and Armenian, and how this representation could possibly affect women’s lived reality. 2

Armenian Society in the First–Fourth Centuries CE

2.1 Political and Social Structure In 63 ce, after years of struggle between the Roman Empire and Parthian Iran over Armenia, the sides eventually reached a compromise at Rhandeia, according to which a member of the Parthian royal family would occupy the throne of Armenia but his rule would be legitimised only when the Roman Emperor put the crown on the king’s head; thus, in 66 ce Trdat I, the younger brother of the Parthian king Vologeses, travelled to Rome and was officially crowned by Nero.3 Soon after this event, according to Agat‘angełos, the Armenian king became the second person “in the kingdom of the Persians, for whoever was king of Armenia had second rank in the Persian kingdom.”4 The conciliation of 2 Susan Ashbrook Harvey (1983, pp. 289–291) has expressed similar views regarding the symbolic representation of women in early Syrian Christianity, underscoring the influence of ancient Syrian cults and religious beliefs as well as of Judaism on it. 3 Garsoïan 1997, pp. 64–67. 4 Agat‘angełos’ words (Aa §18) refer to the Armenian King Xosrov but they are applied to most Armenian Arsacid kings before the abolition of Parthian rule in Persia: Խոսրով թագաւորն Հայոց, որ էր երկրորդ տէրութեանն Պարսից, զի որ Հայոց թագաւոր էր` նա էր երկրորդ Պարսից տէրութեանն …

Women in Pre-Christian Arsacid Armenia


great rivals, however, did not endure long, for about half a century later hostilities were renewed5 with Armenia again and again finding herself in the epicentre of the clash of imperial interests. In ca 224 the Sassanids managed to overthrow the senior branch of the Arsacid dynasty in Iran, but Arsacid rule in Armenia continued, with small disruptions, until 428, when the Armenian naxarars, reaching a consensus, appealed to the Persian king to abolish monarchy in Armenia.6 Despite the great influence of Hellenistic culture on many spheres of life for Armenian people both in the East and the West,7 the social structure of Arsacid Armenia was, without a doubt, Iranian.8 The influence of the rule of the Parthian dynasty in Armenia can be observed in a whole range of aspects of Armenian life. An example of this is the presence of many loan words from Middle Persian in the vocabulary of social terms of Classical Armenian: e.g. Arm. azat = “ ‘free, noble’ from Parth., Mid. Pers. āzād”; Arm. sparapet = “ ‘army leader,’ loan translation based on Parth. spāδ-pat (cf. Mid. Pers. spāh-bed)”.9 Furthermore, as indicated by Mahé, the Iranian influence on the legislative vocabulary of Armenian is also more than obvious: “awrēn « loi », hraman « commandement », hrovartak « décret », muṛhak « document scellé », uxt « pacte, alliance », vkay « témoin »”.10 The Iranian, and especially the Parthian, influence present in other spheres of Armenian life has been extensively discussed in various studies on the structure of ancient Armenian society and its culture.11 Therefore, while exploring the social structure of Armenia, the Iranian example is particularly revealing,12 5 Garsoïan 1997, p. 69. 6 Lang 2000, p. 529. 7 Most Artaxiad monarchs (ca 188 bce–ca 14 ce) declared themselves philhellenes, and already in the first century bce a strong presence of Hellenistic culture was conspicuous in many parts of Armenia. Plutarch, for instance, informs us that there was a sizable Greek community in Tigranocerta, and that the Armenian King Tigranes II had brought many actors from all the quarters of his empire for his newly built theatre (Plutarch 1914, Lucullus, XXIX). For archaeological evidence see, inter alia, Tiratsian 1983, p. 55. See also Garsoïan 1976, pp. 4–5, n. 9. 8 Garsoïan 1997, p. 76; Adontz 1970, p. 141. 9 Schmitt and Bailey 1987, p. 451 (cf. Ačaṙyan 1971–1979, 1:83 and 4:263). 10 Mahé 2000, p. 683. For further sources see Garsoïan 1976, pp. 11–12, n. 32. 11 See, inter alia, de Jong 2015; Garsoïan 1976, pp. 1–6, 33–35; Russell 1987, p. 84; Adontz 1970, pp. 141, 290–291; Toumanoff 1963, pp. 108–139. 12 In a similar manner scholars of ancient Iranian culture use Armenian sources to understand and explain certain phenomena in their field. For instance, Zaehner extensively uses Eznik Kołbac‘i’s Ełc Alandoc‘ to discuss Zurvanite mythology (Zaehner 1955), and Widengren points out the fact that “[a]ll the Armenian sources are important for our knowledge of social and religious affairs and political and military institutions” of Parthian Iran (Widengren 1983, p. 1267).


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though the existence of unique local elements of social and political organisation should not be overlooked.13 Garsoïan provides a concise summary of the stratification of the society based primarily on her analysis of the Epic Histories.14 In short, the central social institution of Arsacid Armenia was the kingship followed by the class of naxarars (magnates), azats (junior nobility), and ṙamiks (this was a broad term which described non-noble people, namely artisans, traders, and the peasants, the latter also known as šinakank‘). In this stratified society the most powerful class was the naxarar class, and the king was obliged by customary law to get their agreement to his decisions on most important matters. The naxarar families possessed their own armies and vast tracts of land over which the head of the family exercised absolute administrative and judicial power.15 Despite this fact, the whole property of the land was administered jointly with all the members of the family circle.16 Most naxarar families also held hereditary offices in the service of the king: e.g. sparapetut‘iwn – “the supreme command of the army,” was the prerogative of the Mamikonean house; the Gnuni held the office of hazarapet – “seneschals,” and so on.17 As for the azats, they owned some land, but their main function in the society was to serve in the army of the naxarar, under whose vassalage they were.18 It should also be mentioned that the largest section of the Armenian population belonged to the class of the ṙamik: agriculture along with artisanship formed the main economic activities.19 13 An implicit reference to such differences is made in the Epic Histories (IV.xx): “Then Šapuh king of Persia strongly urged Aršak king of Armenia to come with him to Asorestan that he might honor him with great glory, and elevate him to [the dignity] of son-in-law. But Aršak and all his army were distressed to go on such a long journey, for every one of them longed for his own house, his own place, in accordance with the inborn ways of the Armenian men”; Իսկ թագաւորն Պարսից Շապուհ մեծաւ ստիպով ստիպէր զթագաւորն Հայոց զԱրշակ, զի առցէ գնասցէ զնա ընչ ինքեան յԱսորեստան, զի անդ մեծափառ պատուով եւ փեսայութեամբ մեծարեսցէ զնա: Իսկ Արշակ եւ ամենայն զօրք իւր տաղտապէին երթալ զհեռի ճանապարհն. զի ամենայն ոք յանձնիւր տուն յիւրաքանչիւր տեղի զօրէն բարուց հայաստան մարդկան անձկացեալ էին (emphasis mine).

14 Garsoïan 1997, pp. 75–81. For a much more detailed and nuanced discussion of social and political organisation of Arsacid Armenia, albeit with a concerted effort to explain it through western European feudal system, see Manandyan 1981, pp. 211–352. 15 See also ibid., p. 229. 16 See also Mahé 2000, p. 690 and Perikhanian 1983a, p. 643. 17 For more details, see Manandyan 1981, pp. 231–257. 18 Chaumont and Toumanoff 1989, p. 170. 19 Sukiasian 1963, pp. 77, 120. It is noteworthy that in Sasanian Iran there was an influential class of scribes, which is not attested in Armenia. For a brief discussion of this discrepancy, see Garsoïan 1976, p. 41.

Women in Pre-Christian Arsacid Armenia


Thus, the social structure of Arsacid Armenia reveals conspicuous features of a patriarchal society. The political power and authority of the realm was in the hands of its male members who inherited it from their ancestors:20 no woman is known to have acted in the role of a naxarar, nor had there been a queen who would possess as much power and authority in the realm as a male monarch.21 All the hereditary offices attested in Armenian texts were also the prerogative of men, a fact which shows the exclusion of women from the social and political mechanism of power distribution. Sources insinuate that this exclusion was effected by the perceived biological weakness of women, which, like in the majority of ancient societies, was conducive to the establishment of gender-specific social roles and functions. We find the reflection of this culturally entrenched stereotypical mentality in Ełišē and Łazar’s account of the Armenian rebellion of the 450–451 against the Sasanians. They present men sacrificing their lives and fighting the enemy on the physical battlefield, while women are said to overcome the weakness of their flesh through ascetic practices and join equally important battles of the spiritual war.22 The public space is thus portrayed as volatile and violent, and it can only be managed by physically strong men. In the domestic sphere, however, everything was markedly different. 3

The Institution of the Family

3.1 Structure The nucleus of Arsacid Armenian society was the institution of the family.23 It was the characteristic feature of many ancient civilizations, including Iranian societies even before the Parthian and Sasanian periods,24 and the evidence that Armenian society shared this feature lies in the organisation of society as described by medieval historians. However, it should be underscored that 20 For the importance of hereditary rights, see ibid., pp. 41–46. 21 The institution of queenship is examined in more detail in Chapter 7. 22 Ełišē, p. 246 [202]: Մոռացան զկանացի տկարութիւն, եւ եղեն արուք առաքինիք ի հոգեւոր պատերազմին; “They forgot their feminine weakness and became men heroic at spiritual warfare”; ŁP, p. 161 [109]: առ որս յաղթի բան` ասել որոշողութեամբ զսաստիկ վարուցն նոցա ճգնութիւնս, որք անցուցին զբազում արամբք, եւ զբնական տկարութիւն մարմնոյ կանանց զօրացուցեալ առաւել քան զարանց` քաջայաղթողք եղեն; “In their regard no word can describe precisely the severe auster-

23 24

ities of their lives, which surpassed those of many men. Rendering the natural weakness of women’s bodies stronger than men’s, they were gloriously victorious”. Mardirossian 2004, p. 71; Karapetian 1966, p. 6. Perikhanian 1983a, p. 641.


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owing to lack of conclusive evidence from this early period only the basic structure of upper-class families can be reconstructed from the snippets of available information, and based on this we can only make conjectures about the families of the ṙamik class. The existence of a large number of Classical (and Modern) Armenian words referring to various bonds within a family indicates the importance attached to defining the relationships within the extended family.25 Belonging to a family provided one with a name and ancestry,26 defined one’s social status and the extent of one’s authority and power. Considering the highly conservative nature of the institution of the family, especially in remote mountainous areas, it is not surprising that the information about the structure of the Armenian family provided by ancient sources is largely confirmed by traveller’s accounts and the ethnographic research of various Armenian communities that date to the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.27 In Classical Armenian sources there are several words that may be translated into English with the word ‘family’; the most frequently used ones are azg, tun, and tohm with their derivatives azgatohm and ǝntanik‘.28 The existence and 25 See Mahé 1984, pp. 327–345. Mahé’s article is based on the study of Modern Armenian vocabulary but all of these lexical units can also be found, with minor morphological changes, in Classical Armenian. 26 The importance of this aspect is especially underscored in Xorenac‘i’s History in Book 1 (Ծննդաբանութիւն Հայոց Մեծաց), where he provides the genealogy of Armenian naxarar families and of the nation as a whole. 27 The description of the Armenian family that is presented below largely coincided, for instance, with the account of Baron August von Haxthausen, who travelled in the Caucasus region in the first half of the 19th century (von Haxthausen 1854, pp. 222–229). 28 Etymologically, tun derives from Proto-Indo-European word *dṓm, genitive dém-s denoting a ‘house, dwelling place’ (Martirosyan 2010, p. 618; Ačaṙyan 1971–1979, 4:427), while tohm and its compound azgatohm are Iranian loanwords: tohm meaning ‘family, tribe, line’ derives from Mid. Pers. tohm and Parth. tōxm (Schmitt and Bailey 1987, pp. 452, 463; Ačaṙyan 1971–1979, 4:417), and azg from Pahlavi meaning ‘branch’ (Schmitt and Bailey 1987, p. 464; Ačaṙyan 1971–1979, 1:84). The root of the word ǝntanikʿ is tun: prefix ǝn(d)- + tan (locative of tun) + -i (adjectival suffix) + kʿ (plural ending), meaning ‘those who live under the same roof, in the same tun’. The head of the tun was called tēr or tanutēr, the latter compound deriving from tan- (gen. of tun) + connective(?) -u- + tēr = *ti- + ayr, meaning ‘great man, lord’ (1:172–3 and 4:401), that is ‘the lord of the house’, where ‘house’ could refer to both one household and the agnatic group as a whole (see also Greenwood 2004, pp. 65–67). The oldest and the most influential male member of the tohm was called nahapet – from Parthian nāfapati ‘head of a clan’, from nāfa ‘race’ + pāti ‘chief’ (3:423) (cf. Schmitt and Bailey 1987, p. 463: “Northwest Prakrit ṇavhapati- ‘prince,’ Sogd. nʾβ, nʾf ‘family, people’”), whereas the younger male members were called sepuhs – Avestan vīsō-puθrā, ‘an offspring of a noble family,’ north-west and Manichean Pahlavi vispuhr – ‘lord’ (Ačaṙyan 1971–1979, 4:202; cf. Schmitt and Bailey 1987, p. 463). There is also the word

Women in Pre-Christian Arsacid Armenia


frequent use of these lexemes by various authors indicates that the social institution of the family was firmly established and regulated by specific norms by the end of the fifth century. The difference among these terms cannot be easily explained due to the absence of any clarification in the sources, but scholars have suggested several feasible interpretations. According to Garsoïan, for instance, tun and tohm are interchangeably used in the Epic Histories to denote “noble house, family,”29 this usage being also attested elsewhere. Agat‘angełos uses four of these words: azgatohm in connection with all the representatives of Parthian Anak’s family,30 tohm – while referring to the Arsacid dynasty,31 and tun and ǝntanik‘ in the words attributed to Trdat in his address to the Armenian magnates.32 Thomson translates tun as ‘house,’ and azgatohm, tohm, and ǝntanik‘ as ‘family,’ the latter referring to people who live in the ‘house.’ Agat‘angełos also mentions tun T‘orgomay – tun again rendered as ‘house’ by Thomson, – to speak about Armenia in general.33 In addition, ǝntanik‘ is interpreted by Thomson as ‘household’ in the episode when King Χosrov sees Anak and his family arrive at his court.34 These examples are by no means exhaustive and are only intended to show the complexity of the concept of ‘family’ in Arsacid Armenia as it occurs in two fifth-century works. Anahit Perikhanian’s studies of the ancient Iranian family35 may help us shed further light on the structure of the Arsacid Armenian family, for the

29 30 31 32 33 34 35

gerdastan (գերդաստան), which is very common in modern Armenian with the meaning ‘an extended family’. According to NBHL, gerdastan refers to tun including its property and servants, and it may be found in John Chrysostom’s commentary on Matthew and the letter of Paul to the Ephesians, as well as in Luke 12.42 (NBHL 1:547). However, with the meaning ‘family’ it appears much later (Ačaṙyan 1971–1979, 1:541), and this is the reason why I have not included its discussion in this study. EH p. 565. Aa §34. Ibid., §44. Ibid., §130. Ibid., §796. Ibid., §30. Perikhanian’s extensive research into the law and social organisation of pre-Islamic Iran is based on her study of the early seventh century Sasanian book of law cases known as Mādigān ī Hazār Dādistān (the Russian translation was published in Yerevan 1973 by the Academy of Sciences of Armenian SSR, and its English translation by Garsoïan appeared in 1997 (Costa Mesa, CA; Mazda Publishers)), supported by the evidence from the Parthian epigraphic records, as well as scant evidence from Greek, Roman, Syriac, and Armenian sources (Perikhanian 1983a, p. 627; 1983b, p. 4). Although certain parts of her translation of the Mādigān ī Hazār Dādistān were revised by Maria Macuch in her German translations (Das sasanidische Rechtsbuch ‘Mātakdān i hazār dātistān’: (Teil II), Wiesbaden: Deutsche Morgenländische Gesellschaft 1981; and Rechtskasuistik und Gerichtspraxis zu Beginn des siebenten Jahrhunderts in Iran: die Rechtssamlung des


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similarities are significant.36 In Iranian reality tōxm (Arm. tohm) along with nāf and gōhr was used to denote the agnatic group, which “[i]n its simplest form … included several dozen patriarchal families who all originated from one common ancestor on the father’s side, three or more generations back from the living heads of these families”.37 The smallest unit of the agnatic group was the individual family followed by the patriarchal family of undivided brothers characterised by “a strict system of rights and obligations”; “members of the family were linked together by shared worship … and religious rights, joint family property … and by common activity in production and consumption”.38 The head of the patriarchal family was called kadag-xwadāy (katak-xvatāy), which literally meant ‘head of the family’, the same as the Armenian tanutēr, and his wife was referred to as kadag-bānūg (katak-bānūk) – ‘mistress of the house’39 corresponding to the Armenian tantikin. The council of kadag-xwadāys presided by the nāfapati (Arm. nahapet) formed the administrative body which managed virtually everything that concerned the agnatic group.40 There is no evidence of women’s participation in decision-making at these councils, although their presence in different ceremonies is widely attested.41 According to Perikhanian, there were two parties in the Iranian family which coexisted and interacted according to a strict hierarchic division – personae sui iuris and personae alieni iuris: the former included the head of the family along with all grown-up adult men (fifteen and more years old), and the


37 38 39 40 41

Farrohmard i Wahraman, Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1993), the picture of Iranian society described by Perikhanian, to the best of my knowledge, has not been challenged so far. In addition, Perikhanian’s findings concur with Pigulevskaya’s (1956) earlier but less detailed summary of the information on the Iranian family of the fourth-sixth centuries, which will also be cited below. Several studies into the structure of medieval Armenian society and, in particular, into the institution of the family attempt to reconstruct the structure, relationships, and socio-economic functions of the society’s core element by relying on scant information from historical, religious, and ethnographic sources (see, for instance, Hovnannisyan 1973 and Karapetian 1966). The final sketch they produce shows remarkable resemblance to what we know about the institution of the family in ancient Iran. Perikhanian 1983a, p. 642. The ‘agnatic group’ should be understood as a ‘patrilineal group’, in which the property of family and its social status are passed on “from father to legitimate son” (Scott and Marshall 2009). Perikhanian 1983a, pp. 641–642. Ibid., p. 641; Pigulevskaya 1956, p. 182. Perikhanian 1983a, pp. 643–644. Perikhanian mentions events such as the Zoroastrian investiture with the sacred girdle and shirt, weddings, and judicial acts. See, for instance, Garsoïan’s study of the banqueting scenes found in the samples of Sasanian art (1981, pp. 56–57).

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latter were women and all the children under fifteen.42 A woman, by herself, did not possess any legal rights: it was through her husband or her father that she acquired a certain status in society. In the absence of tangible evidence from this period of a similar division in the Armenian extended family, we may only speculate whether the situation in it was much different.43 It is worth mentioning, however, that ethnographic studies in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, despite their numerous limitations and biases, provide an almost identical picture of the Armenian family, highlighting the ancient nature of that structure.44 In the Armenian texts the Iranian kadag-xwadāy was indicated by words like tanutēr, nahapet, and their synonym išxan. Presumably from the context in which these words are found, Sukiasian inferred that they referred to the position of the male members within a family, while the word naxarar was used to denote one’s social status.45 Furthermore, according to Toumanoff, išxan was also “applicable to High Kings, their cadets, and to sub-kings alike.”46 It is interesting that there is no feminine derivative of naxarar or nahapet, while in Koriwn, for instance, we find the word išxanakin, by which he refers to the Mamikonean lord Vardan’s wife named Dustr.47 It appears that the choice of the word referring to a nobleman or noblewoman largely depended on the context of writing and which aspect of his/her authority the ancient historian wished to emphasise. The early Christian authors also provide interesting details about a clearly hierarchical division among women. When speaking about the household, the word tantikin was usually used in the primary sources to refer to the female figure who possessed considerable power and authority.48 Etymologically, 42 43

Perikhanian 1983b, p. 50. In fact, there is a sentence in Łazar’s History (p. 135 [88]) mentioning women and children as if they are a separate group, which might be a hint to such a division in Armenian society: when speaking about the Armenian naxarars the Persian King Yazkert II says, “their wives, sons, and daughters, when brought by anyone ornaments of gold, silver, or pearls, if the smallest piece of these dead men’s bones is given them, think this to be the most estimable and precious” (կանայք նոցա, ուստերք եւ դստերք, եւ զզարդս ոսկւոյ եւ արծաթոյ եւ մարգարտոյ տարեալք ուրուք նոցա, թէ կարի փոքր ինչ յոսկերաց այնր մեռելոց տայր նոցա` զայն մեծարգոյ եւ պատուական համարին) (empha-

44 45 46 47 48

sis mine). See Karapetian 1966. Sukiasian 1963, p. 195. Cf. Toumanoff 1963, pp. 116–117. Ibid., p. 114. Koriwn, XXIV. Norehad translates išxanakin as “noble lady”, while Wrinkler (1994, p. 116) as “Prinzessin”. Ethnographic research has shown that the status of the tantikin in the family as an authoritative, powerful, and respectable figure remained a characteristic feature of the Armenian


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tantikin is a compound noun with the morpheme tan-49 followed by tikin, for which we find two equally plausible analyses: ti- ‘division, share, plot of land’ and kin ‘woman’, corresponding to the English ‘landlady’;50 or, alternatively, tikin deriving from *tē- ‘great’ and kin ‘woman’.51 With its meaning tantikin also coincides with the Greek οἰκοδέσποινα, Latin materfamilias,52 and the Old Iranian kadag-bānūg discussed above. The tantikin, who was either the wife or the mother of the tanutēr, was at the head of the women’s hierarchy and occupied a throne of honour in the house,53 while the other women’s positions in the hierarchy depended on their marital status and age.54 It was the responsibility of the tantikin to allocate tasks to maids and servants, as well as to the younger members of the family to carry out the everyday chores.55 The sources, however, do not allow us to acquire a thorough understanding of these relationships, and, in particular, it is not clear how this structure within the family functioned vis-à-vis the hierarchical divisions among men. Most importantly, it is difficult to conjecture to what extent women participated in decision-making within the extended family. Within the social context, the word tikin with the meaning of ‘the great lady’ was often used as the female counterpart of tēr ‘the head of the clan, lord’ to refer to the wife or the mother of the nahapet, denoting her high position and authority within the clan. It is worth noting that tēr became the main word to address the Christian god, whereas tikin was used as the title of Zoroastrian goddess Anahit, as well as to denote the queens of Armenia in the Arsacid period.56 Finally, the picture of the society drawn by the early Christian Armenian texts allows us to reconsider the traditional understanding of the primacy of families in many areas of the Armenian Highland (see, for instance, Nahapetyan 2009, pp. 73–76). 49 See n. 28 of this chapter. 50 Dowsett 1964, pp. 139, 141, and 145. 51 Ačaṙyan 1971–1979, 4:406. 52 NBHL, 2:844. 53 See Chapter 5, especially n. 70, for the throne of the wife of the sparapet Vardan Mamikonean mentioned in EH, IV.xviii. 54 If the widowed mother of tanutēr was still alive, then she would normally be in charge, for in the case of the tanutēr’s death, his widow would find herself under the guardianship of her elder son (Perikhanian 1983a, pp. 648–649), thus remaining the oldest female in the household. 55 Mahé 2000, p. 690. A similar situation is observed in the Sasanian family (see Rose 1998, p. 32). For more on the hierarchical divisions amongst women within the Armenian family, see Chapter 5. 56 See Chapter 7.

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the public sphere of activity over the domestic one. Despite the existence of several cities on the territory of Greater Armenia in the Arsacid period, the vast majority of the population lived in the rural areas, with the naxarar families and their entire households residing in fortresses, which were usually located in remote, difficult to access, mountainous areas.57 This fact prompts us to re-evaluate the significance of the domestic space in the life of the Armenians, because the household was a microcosm of Arsacid Armenian society with its own social life and economy. As one might expect, noblewomen are described spending a considerable amount of time in their fortresses within the household, while men usually occupied the space outside it being engaged in hunting or military campaigns. From the economic point of view this meant that the daily management of the domestic economy, which amongst many things involved the cultivation of agricultural produce and winemaking, was the responsibility of the tantikin and her subordinates.58 Moreover, the household was the primary setting where, under the supervision of women, the younger generation received their initial education.59 These inferences evince the substantial contribution that women made to the prosperity of the family and underscore the significant role that the domestic sphere played in the general welfare of society, in spite of the fact that it was completely ignored by the male authors of the texts under scrutiny. It should nevertheless be underscored that our conjecture is based on scant written and archaeological evidence. Only thorough excavations of fortresses and their environs combined with other pieces of surviving evidence would allow us to obtain a more accurate picture of the internal organisation and functioning of an Arsacid Armenian household. Marriage Patterns 3.2 The matrimonial practices of the Armenian nobility also evince significant Iranian influence. While describing events just before the establishment of 57

58 59

Garsoïan 1984–1985, pp. 75–78; see also Manandyan 1981, p. 230. An example of this type of construction is the early medieval fortress of Ernǰatap‘ located on the left bank of K‘asax River in Aparan region of Armenia (see Petrosyan and Kirakosyan 1990). Unfortunately, no thorough archaeological excavation of this and similar fortresses has been carried out to date to allow us to reach more substantiated conclusions. For specific references, see the discussion in Chapter 5. See the discussion in Chapter 5. Sasanian sources contemporary to this period mention the same roles for women within the household. Rose (1998, p. 30), writing about the traditions of Zoroastrian families in pre-Islamic Iran, mentions that “[s]ince the upkeep of the home and the education of young children was the traditional concern of the women of the household, their role in transmitting religious tenets and customs may be presumed to have been considerable.”


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Arsacid dynasty in Armenia, Tacitus writes that “neither Tigranes nor his children reigned long, though, in foreign fashion, they were united in marriage and in royal power.”60 The Roman historian refers to the Artaxiad king of Armenia Tigranes III and his children Tigranes IV and Erato. The marriage “in foreign fashion” for the Roman historian is the union of Tigranes IV and Erato, obviously conducted according to the Iranian tradition, which apparently was not foreign to the Armenian ruling dynasty due to their close ties with the Persian elite.61 As we shall see below,62 this is not the only reference to an Iranian-style marriage adopted by the Armenian elite. Tacitus’ mention of the marriage of Tigranes and Erato suggests an incestuous relationship within the royal family, which, taking into account the unstable political situation in the country, might have been prompted by necessity to consolidate power. On the other hand, this union could have been in accordance with the practice of xvaētvadatha- (Mid. Pers. xvēdōdah) in Zoroastrianism, which encouraged next-of-kin marriages and is attested in a number of ancient sources including Sasanian ones.63 It has been widely acknowledged that consanguineous marriages, alongside polygamy, were common among the ruling elite of the Achaemenid, Parthian, and Sasanian empires,64 but it is not clear whether they were also practised at the lower strata of society. Many more details have been preserved about other types of marriage in Sasanian Iran. The most common ones were the pātixšāyīh (legally and socially full marriage which produced legitimate heirs of the husband)65 and stūr marriage, which could be of two types – čakar (or čakarīh), when a widow of a childless man married the nearest agnate to bear a male heir for her late husband, and, if the widow was unable to deliver children, the marriage of epikleros (Gk. ἐπίκληρος = heiress, in this case – the one who will bear an heir), namely of a daughter or sister was sanctioned by the agnates so that the male 60 Tacitus 1942, Annals 2.3. 61 For these relationships, see Toumanoff’s overview of Armenian dynasties (1963, pp. 192–229). 62 See Chapter 6. 63 See Boyce 2001, pp. 53–54, 97, 111; Orengo 2009, pp. 641–642; Russell 1987, p. 94; HZ I, p. 254; Pigulevskaya 1956, pp. 185–187. The most famous evidence quoted for the Sasanian period is an inscription from the second half of the third century ce on the Kaabah of Zoroaster signed by Kartīr, the magus-master: “And by the provision of the gods and the King of Kings and by my efforts in the empire of Iran many fires of Varahrān were established, and many kin marriages were made, and many people who had become unfaithful [to their vows], these became faithful” (Sprengling 1953, p. 52). 64 See Brosius 2010. 65 Perikhanian 1983a, p. 646.

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child born of this marriage would become the legitimate successor of the deceased man.66 The practice of stūr marriages implied that virtually any type of union between a man and woman was possible, but on the basis of extant evidence we may assume that, in most cases, it was the head of the clan himself who would accept the responsibility to beget an heir for the deceased person.67 Thus, in accordance with the institution of stūr marriage a single female survivor of a family could ensure the continuation of her father or husband’s line. Iranian peoples also practised marriage “for a definite period”, during which a husband had “the right to hand over his wife – by a formal procedure and in response to a formal request – to another man belonging to his community, as a temporary wife for a definite period which was stipulated in a declaration”.68 The Armenian sources have not preserved any direct reference to these types of marriages, for they were believed to be remnants of pre-Christian traditions and customs, but, as we shall see in Chapter 6, identical or similar practices were followed by the naxarar families in Armenia even after Christianisation. A brief examination of the vocabulary for family relationships in the Classical Armenian language can reveal additional features of the institution of marriage. Emil Benveniste’s study of Indo-European kinship vocabulary has shown that there are more words that describe the connections of the wife with her in-laws than the husband’s relationships with his wife’s relatives, with the main explanation being the observation that the wife leaves her clan to enter that of the husband and this institutes relations between her and the family of her husband which demand expression…. On the other hand, for the man, there is no necessity to distinguish by specific terms relatives of his wife since he does not cohabit with them.69 This assumption, however, does not reflect the evidence preserved in Classical Armenian, which contains many words denoting kin relationships of the husband with his in-laws: e.g. anēr = father-in-law (the father of the woman

66 Ibid., p. 649. 67 See the discussion in Chapter 6, in which St Nersēs warns against intimate relations between a father-in-law and his daughter-in-law. See also Zakarian 2018, which discusses the marriages of P‘aṙanjem, the Queen of Armenia. 68 Perikhanian 1983a, p. 650. 69 Benveniste 1973, p. 167.


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in relation to her husband),70 with plural anērk‘ also meaning ‘in-laws’,71 zok‘anč‘ = mother-in-law (the mother of the woman in relation to the woman’s husband),72 k‘eni = sister-in-law (the sister of the woman in relation to the woman’s husband).73 The existence of a rich paradigm of kinship vocabulary, in which both the husband and wife’s relatives are comprehensively presented,74 is an indication that the daughter did not completely sever the ties with her paternal family after her marriage (unlike, for instance, the Iranian family)75 and there was a constant interaction between her husband and her next of kin. Thus, a child born in full (pātixsāyīh-type) marriage automatically entered the husband’s clan,76 but the ties with the maternal side remained strong.77 This short survey into the social structure of pre-Christian Arsacid Armenia shows that the patriarchal paradigm of power distribution permeated the most important layers of social organisation – the state mechanism and the family. A strict hierarchy and clear distribution of roles based on customary law sustained this system. Most women’s agency and experience were limited to the household, but, as we shall see below, women of privileged status could participate in and even influence social processes.78

70 MX, III.xxvi: քանզի Անտիոք նահապետ Սիւնեաց, որ էր աներ Արշակայ եւ վերակացու քաղաքին, հրամայեաց աղխել ընդդէմ Շապհոյ; “for Antiochus, prince of Siunik‘, who was Arshak’s father-in-law and governor of the city, ordered it to be defended against Shapuh.” 71 EH, III.v: վասն այնորիկ զզուէին զնա աներք նորա; “his in-laws oppressed him on account of this.” 72 Eusebius 1818, Chronicle II, pp. 258–260: Հերովդէս … սպանանէ եւ զմայր սպանելոյ կնոջն՝ զիւր զոքանչ; “Herod … also kills his mother-in-law, the mother of his wife whom he killed” . 73 ŁP, p. 91 [52]: ունէր կին յազգէն Արծրունեաց, զքենի մեծի սեպհին Մամիկոնէից; ”had as wife an Arcruni, the sister-in-law of the great noble of the Mamikoneank‘.” 74 For a comprehensive scheme of modern Armenian kinship vocabulary, see Mahé 1984, pp. 342–343; most words found there are also attested in early Armenian sources. 75 Perikhanian mentions that the pātixsāyīh marriage “assumed entry by the wife into the husband’s agnatic group and her passing under the guardianship of her husband (also, if he was alive, of her father-in-law), with the loss of her position in her previous family and complete release from the authority of her father or guardian …” (Perikhanian 1983a, p. 646). 76 Mahé 2000, p. 690. 77 By referring to A. Darinsky’s analysis of the ethnographic material on different peoples of the Caucasus (Darinsky 1900, pp. 192–195), Mahé mentions that the maternal uncles had a moral obligation to protect and educate their nephews (2000, p. 690 and n. 53). There is, however, no evidence about this obligation in early Christian Armenian sources. 78 See the subsequent chapters, as well as Pogossian 2003, pp. 373–375, 379–380, and Zakarian 2013a, pp. 16–19, 22–25.

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Customary Law

There are many reasons why this gender asymmetry in agency and experience, characteristic of patriarchal social structures, was formed,79 but what interests us here is how it was sustained in pre-Christian Armenia, when no written universal law code, either native or borrowed, which could legitimise such a state of affairs, is attested in Antiquity.80 In early Armenian literature there are numerous references to an unwritten law referred to as awrēnk‘ (from Parth. awδēn), which was widely acknowledged and understood by the members of the society. Several scholars81 identified it with the customary law, and there is no obvious reason to disagree with them.82 While discussing Hegel’s ideas about historicality and narrativity, Haydan White made the following revealing remark, which helps to explain the strong interest, if not obsession, of early Christian Armenian authors with regard to the law: The more historically self-conscious the writer of any form of historiography, the more the question of the social system and the law that sustains it, the authority of this law and its justification, and threats to the law occupy his attention. If, as Hegel suggests, historicality as a distinct mode of human existence is unthinkable without the presupposition of a system of law in relation to which a specifically legal subject could be construed, then historical self-consciousness, the kind of consciousness capable of imagining the need to represent reality as history, is conceivable only in terms of its interest in law, legality, and legitimacy, and so on.83 Our authors were undoubtedly “historically self-conscious” and their works indeed evince a considerable interest in the law and norms that contribute to the maintenance of the social system they describe. It is reflected in repeated 79 See a detailed discussion in Lerner 1986. 80 In ancient Mesopotamia three such law codes are attested – the Codex Hammurabi (ca 1750 bce), the Hittite Laws (starting from ca fifteenth century bce) and the Middle Assyrian Laws (ca eleventh century bce). For how these codes, along with Jewish Covenant Code, sustained patriarchal social institutions and ascribed certain roles to women, see ibid., pp. 101–122. 81 See, for example, Mahé 2000, pp. 683–687 and Mardirossian 2004, pp. 25–26. 82 Hereinafter, ‘customary law’ and awrēnk‘ will be used interchangeably throughout the present study. 83 White 1987, pp. 13–14.


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references to the patrimonial awrēnk‘ of the Armenians and the moral obligation of righteous people to adhere to it. The concept of awrēnk‘ enclosed in itself various notions such as “order and rules (canons) defined by god or man, beliefs, faith, dēn,84 tradition, rights, commandments, ceremonies.”85 Or, as Thomson put it, awrēnk‘ denoted “more than religion to include customs, laws, and traditions, a whole way of life that characterized Armenians as Armenians”.86 Even after the adoption of the Christian faith at the beginning of the fourth century, customary law exerted great influence on all spheres of life. The Armenian Church was to fight many common beliefs which contradicted the principles of Christianity by issuing canons that prohibited certain practices, especially those which were remnants of Zoroastrian tradition. However, being unable to eradicate completely these phenomena, the church assimilated and adapted several of them,87 and the concept of awrēnk‘ was also adopted.88 It came to signify a unique combination of many tenets of the customary law and the moral teachings of the Scriptures, representing “a set of norms which was to be preserved in the communal consciousness as hayreni [astuacatur] awrēnk‘ – [God-given] laws of the ancestors (literally, of fathers).”89 Thus, in Ełišē’s History Vardan Mamikonean, for instance, calls upon the Armenian troops to fight “against the impious [anawrēn] prince for our ancestral and divinely-bestowed” awrēnk‘,90 as did the Maccabees for their “God-given”

84 This is the Middle Persian word dyn or d’yn [dēn], which means religion, faith. 85 Կարգ եւ կանոն սահմանեալ յԱստծոյ կամ ի մարդկանէ, կրօնք, հաւատք, դեն, աւանդութիւն, իրաւունք, պատուիրանք, արարողութիւնք. This definition, provided by NBHL (2:1032), covers all the elements involved in the formation of the customary law, though it also mentions եւ մատեանք օրինաց (“and the law codes”) referring to the modern usage of the word awrēnk‘ meaning ‘state-sponsored written legislation’, which, however, appeared much later in the Middle Ages. 86 Ełišē, p. 10. 87 For instance, the Armenian Feast of the Transfiguration (Քրիստոսի Պայծառակերպությունը), more commonly known as Vardavaṙ (Վարդավառ), has preserved elements of the cult of Anahit (Russell 1987, pp. 251–252). 88 As Mahé emphasises (2000, p. 689), « loin de transformer l’ordre ancien, le christianisme s’y est simplement inséré en lieu et place de la religion précédence. Le même phénomène s’est également produit dans le domaine du droit: l’ancienne loi coutumière a été globalement maintenue; puis, un siècle plus tard, quand l’écriture arménienne a été inventée, les canons sont venus s’y ajouter soit pour la reformer sur certains points précis, soit pour statuer sur des matières nouvelles ». 89 Zakarian 2013a, p. 5. 90 Ełišē, p. 154 [102]: մարտ եդեալ կռուեսցուք ընդ անօրէն իշխանին վասն հայրենի աստվածատուր օրինացն.

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awrēnk‘ when “they fought and struggled against the king of Antioch”.91 Similarly, Xorenac‘i describes the death of Bagratuni princes, who refused to worship the idols, saying that “[they] bravely died by the sword for their ancestral” awrēnk‘,92 though in this episode Xorenac‘i writes about the Bagratunis’ presumed Jewish roots. As opposed to written civil law,93 customary law was handed down orally from generation to generation through everyday interaction within the family and community. Armenian customary law comprised many layers of customs and habits originating among proto-Armenian tribes, which were later significantly influenced by the Zoroastrian worldview.94 From the early Armenian literary sources we can infer that awrēnk‘ was perceived as a framework of unwritten rules and norms which imposed a socially acceptable behaviour on every member of the community. Whoever deviated from this framework was severely chastised and characterised as anawrēn – ‘unrighteous’ or ‘unlawful’, which is found in virtually all literary sources of the fifth century. Customary law was the basic regulator of the public and domestic spaces of Arsacid Armenia. It was the law of fathers (hayreni) and not of mothers because it was the product of the public sphere, where male members of the society produced symbolic norms and values that enabled them to ensure their domination in all spheres of life. Being established as a result of a long process of societal transformation from early tribal unions to a strictly hierarchical naxarar system, the customary law was profoundly influenced by the religious beliefs of its adherents, which implied that the gender roles were also, to a certain degree, defined in accordance with religion’s norms and values. Amongst other things, the works of early Christian Armenian authors aimed at redefining the pre-Christian awrēnk‘ and presented Christianity as the “patrimonial and natural religion” of the Armenians. They attempted to erase the undesirable remnants of Zoroastrian law by disparaging the supreme gods and goddesses of the old religion and proposing a new system of beliefs, a new awrēnk‘, which arouse from a different source.

91 Ibid., p. 157 [105]: [Մակաբէացիք]

մարտուցեալ կռուեցան ի աստուածատուր օրինացն ընդդէմ թագաւորին Անտիոքացւոց. MX, II.ix: սրով կատարեցան արիաբար ի վերայ հայրենի օրինացն.


92 93 For the development of both types of law in the Armenian tradition, see Mardirossian 2004 and Mahé 2000. 94 For specific examples, see, for instance, Calzolari 2011c.

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The Pre-Christian Religion of Armenia

5.1 Zoroastrianism While speaking about the gods of Olympus, Sarah B. Pomeroy remarks that in patriarchal societies “[t]he goddesses are archetypal images of human females, as envisioned by males”; they possess all the characteristics that men desire but these are distributed among many goddesses instead of being concentrated in one.95 Although this statement oversimplifies the complicated formation process of a polytheistic pantheon,96 its underlying assumption that various characteristics attributed to gods and goddesses may reflect certain values cherished by the given male-dominated society is a useful point of reference for our study of pre-Christian Armenian religion. Armenian literary sources have preserved essential details about religious beliefs and practices in pre-Christian Armenia, the accuracy of which has been confirmed by other relevant sources. Despite the largely negative portrayal of virtually everything that was linked to the old beliefs, we can gain valuable insights into how people viewed the universe and their place in it, and how these beliefs determined their lifestyle on a daily basis. Religious obligations included the preservation of the domestic hearth, regular sacrifices to the spirits of deceased ancestors, a variety of purification ceremonies, participation in festivals and so on.97 It is, therefore, necessary to discuss the characteristics ascribed to various Zoroastrian deities, for it will enable us to acquire some understanding of the value system of the Armenian society before the adoption of Christianity. The introduction of Zoroastrianism amongst the Armenians must date back to the sixth century bce, when Armenia became part of the vast Achaemenid Empire while preserving a semi-independent status. Zoroastrianism came to modify and transform but not fully replace the cults of the ancient gods of Armenia: most gods are known to us only under their Iranian names, but they have also preserved characteristic features of more ancient deities.98 It is beyond the scope of this book to discuss in detail the constituent elements of pre-Christian Armenian religion, but what is crucial for our understanding of the representation of women in Christian Armenian literature is the fact that this complex religious construct determined the way people perceived their 95 96 97 98

Pomeroy 1995, p. 8. Later in her work Pomeroy herself shows the limitations of this statement when she discusses Roman festivals and cults which were confined only to women (ibid., pp. 205–226). See Stausberg and Vevaina 2015, pp. 315–406. For examples, see Russell 1987, pp. 28–29, Petrosyan 2004, pp. 208–225, and Zekiyan 2005, pp. 235–238.

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own existence and provided the main ideological framework for customary law, with the help of which socio-political relationships were regulated. Currently, most scholars99 are of the opinion that Zoroaster, the founder and the revered prophet of Zoroastrianism, provided both men and women with equal opportunities to contribute to the fight of goodness against the powers of evil, and thus have hopes to achieve redemption.100 Both Ahura Mazdā, the beneficent spirit, and Angra Mainyu, the destructive spirit, are masculine divinities, but they give birth to various deities and spirits, both male and female, whose categorisation is not made on the basis of their gender, but primarily according to their allegiance. A close look at the Old Avestan sacred texts such as the Gāthās and Yašts, nonetheless, evinces a slight superiority of the masculine divinities, which are less susceptible to the negative influences of the powers of evil.101 The existence of grammatical gender in the Old Avestan language also adds to this perception because many negative religious concepts related to moral values such as “ajiiāiti – ‘nonlife,’ asrušti – ‘disobedience,’ āθri – ‘disaster,’ ə̄nāxšti – ‘rivalry,’ tarəmaiti – ‘scorn,’ dušiti – ‘bad dwelling,’ dužjiiāiti – ‘bad life,’ pairimaiti – ‘negligence’” are feminine nouns, though masculine and neuter ones are not few either.102 This gendered connotation is, nevertheless, absent in the primary administrative language of the Parthian Empire, which, as mentioned earlier, like Armenian does not distinguish linguistic gender. In this respect, the Bundahišn, a sacred Zoroastrian text from the Parthian period about the genesis of the humankind, is also of great interest. According to it, two human beings, Mašyā and Mašyānag, are born from the seed of the

99 See, for instance, Goldman 2012, HZ I, p. 308 n. 83, and de Jong 1995, p. 41. 100 This view has been challenged by Jamshed Choksy (2002, p. 2.), who claims that “[t]he notion that the feminine – including many aspects of the female and of women – was believed to be more chaotic, dangerous, evil, and, consequently, distant from the order and goodness of god became … a perspective of the Mazdean or Zoroastrian religion for much of the history.” This latter view appears to be largely based on the works of Robert Zaehner (whom Choksy extensively quotes in his book) on Zoroastrianism and, in particular, one of its most influential branches, Zurvanism, in which Zaehner elaborates on Zurvanite misogyny. However, Choksy’s research into this topic has largely been criticised as “a rehash of others’ scholarly works” (Adhami 2004, p. 343.) and “a somewhat crude mixture of rather different – and in the last instance even contradictory – forms of theorizing religion” (Stausberg 2003, p. 72). The evidence that Choksy provides, in an attempt to prove a gender-based division of various aspects of Zoroastrian religion, is not convincing, and the matter requires further investigation. 101 Rose 2015, pp. 274–275. 102 Gnoli 1999a, p. 79.


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deceased first man, Gayōmard.103 In this episode there is no evidence of the male being created first like in Gen. 2.21–22 – in contrast to Gen. 1.26–27 – which gave Christian Fathers of the Church yet another excuse to elaborate on female secondariness as an indication of her inferiority.104 In addition, in a quite unequivocal passage from Yašt 46.10 it is easy to perceive, to use Albert de Jong’s words, that “in the mind of the prophet, hope of salvation was equally good for men and women: ‘O Wise Lord, whoever, man or woman, shall give me what you know as the best of being […] with all these, I shall cross the bridge of the Separator’.”105 Another important feature of Zoroastrianism is the agency with which female divinities are endowed. For instance, as pointed out by Jenny Rose, “Anāhitā increases crops, herds, fields, and possessions, bestowing fertility on both men and women (Yt 5.1–2), but she also steers a chariot pulled by four horses, bringing victory to Iranian warriors and defeating their enemies, both mortal and demonic (Yt 5.11–13)”.106 She is not a passive, idealized mother goddess but a powerful female divinity that may influence the fate of both women and men, both kings and the lay population. From the extant historical evidence it is nonetheless apparent that the relatively equitable treatment of women and men in Zoroastrian sacred texts was not fully reflected in the everyday life of Iranian women. It was a deeply patriarchal society in which men had many privileges while women’s position in society depended entirely on the social status of their husbands or fathers. The Armenian pantheon did not fully replicate the structure of the Zoroastrian one but general attitudes and the main beliefs were virtually the same. A discussion of the representation of Armenian goddesses will thus be useful to identify which characteristic features of these deities were emphasised and extolled, and which traits were deemed desirable and worth emulating.

103 “Out of the seed [of Gayōmard] which went into the Earth, Masīya and Masyīnī grew up in forty years, through whom arose the perfect progress of the world, the destruction of the dīvs and the inability of the evil Spirit” (Zand-Ākāsīh 1956, 6F.9). 104 See Clark 1986, p. 31; Sawyer 1996, pp. 149–153; Kvam et al. 1999, pp. 110, 112. 105 De Jong 1995, pp. 23–24. According to Goldman (2012), “message of equality is articulated through the use of explicitly inclusive formulae. Four times in the Yasna Haptaŋhāiti the words nar- ‘man’ and nāirī- ‘woman’ are collocated: twice as part of the fixed expression nā vā nāirī vā ‘a man or a woman’ (Y. 35.6, 41.2), and twice as narąmcā nāirinąmcā ‘of men and women’ (Y. 37.3, 39.2).” He continues with other examples, too, including the one from Yašt 46, quoted by de Jong. 106 Rose 2015, p. 275.

Women in Pre-Christian Arsacid Armenia


5.2 Female Deities of the Armenian Pantheon Our knowledge about the pre-Christian religion of the Armenians and its female divinities derives primarily from Greco-Roman and Christian Armenian literature, Armenian folklore, and some archaeological evidence. Moreover, certain elements of the cults of Zoroastrian deities have been preserved in various forms in Christian Armenian feasts and customs. Owing to the mediated nature of this information it is, however, difficult to acquire a profound understanding of pre-Christian Armenian religion without drawing parallels with the Iranian religious customs and traditions discussed above. The first source that we shall turn to is Agat‘angełos’ History of the Armenians, which contains memories of Zoroastrian practices in the court of the Arsacid Armenian king and invaluable information about the location of many Zoroastrian temples in Armenia. From the words ascribed to King Trdat by Agat‘angełos we may assume that pre-Christian Arsacid Armenians most revered Aramazd107 as the supreme authority along with “Lady Anahit” and “valiant Vahagn,”108 while for the Sassanids Zurvan, Time, acquired more importance, for he was considered to be the father of the twins, Ahura Mazdā (Arm. Aramazd, Ormizd) and Angra Mainyu (Arm. Ahriman, Arheman).109 Trdat’s invocation of the holy Zoroastrian triad is an indication of a close affinity to an older Iranian religious tradition, for it echoes a similar utterance of the Achaemenid Artaxerxes II, found in various inscriptions in Susa and other places, in which the king of kings invokes Ahura Mazdā, Anāhita and Mihr.110 The evidence suggests that the only female figure amongst these three deities, Anahit, was held in particularly high esteem in Armenia.111 In Strabo’s Geography we find a curious passage which confirms the significance of the cult of Anahit in Armenia: Now the sacred rites of the Persians, one and all, are held in honor by both the Medes and the Armenians; but those of Anaïtis are held in 107 ‘Aramazd’ is the Parthian and Armenian variant of the name ‘Ahura Mazdā’. 108 Aa  §127: Ողջոյն հասեալ եւ շինութիւն դիցն ոգնականութեամբ, լիութիւն պարարտութեան յարոյն Արամազդայ, խնամակալութիւն յԱնահիտ տիկնոջէ, եւ քաջութիւն հասցէ ձեզ ի քաջէն Վահագնէ ամենայն Հայոց աշխարհիս …;

“May there be health and prosperity by the help of the gods … abundant fertility from noble Aramazd, protection from Lady Anahit, valour from valiant Vahagn, to you and to all our land of Armenia.” 109 HZ I, p. 423. 110 HZ II, pp. 216–217. 111 The name ‘Anahit’ has been preserved in communal memory and has been one of the most popular modern female Armenian names for over a century, though in ancient times it was used only for the goddess (Ačaṙyan 1972, pp. 145–146).


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exceptional honor by the Armenians, who have built temples in her honor in different places, and especially in Acilisene. Here they dedicate to her service male and female slaves. This, indeed, is not a remarkable thing; but the most illustrious men of the tribe actually consecrate to her their daughters while maidens; and it is the custom for these first to be prostituted in the temple of the goddess for a long time and after this to be given in marriage; and no one disdains to live in wedlock with such a woman…. And they are so kindly disposed to their paramours that they not only entertain them hospitably but also exchange presents with them, often giving more than they receive, inasmuch as the girls from wealthy homes are supplied with means. However, they do not admit any man that comes along, but preferably those of equal rank with themselves.112 The temple of Zoroastrian goddess Anahit in Erēz in the province of Ekełeac‘ (Acilisene) in Greater Armenia, which Stabo singles out in this passage, is also mentioned by Agat‘angełos, who very eloquently describes its destruction by St Gregory the Illuminator.113 It is, nevertheless, perceptible that the Greek historian sounds doubtful and shocked by the involvement of the representatives of noble houses in the “cultic sexual service”, despite the fact that such practices have been attested in many ancient sources.114 This lack of certainty in Strabo’s account, its being at variance with other descriptions of the cult of Anahit, and the absolute silence of Christian Armenian sources about this practice prompted scholars, and rightfully so, to challenge the accuracy of the picture that Strabo draws.115 Arədvī Sūrā Anāhitā, known in Armenia as Anahit, was one of the most popular deities worshiped throughout the centuries, with remnants of her cult having survived into modern times. The word arədvī occurs only in this name,116 whereas in Younger Avestan sūrā stands for “strong, mighty,” and anāhitā means “undefiled, immaculate.”117 She is primarily the goddess of waters and fertility, but in the Parthian period she also acquires the features of the Greek

112 Strabo 1924, 11.14.16: 113 Aa §786. 114 Lerner differentiates between “cultic sexual service” and common prostitution known to have existed in different ancient cultures: the former refers to sacred rituals which included sexual acts and the latter refers to “commercial prostitution” (Lerner 1986, p. 125). 115 See, for instance, Budin 2008, pp. 199–209 and Chaumont 1965, p. 175. 116 Boyce, quoting Bartholomae and Lommel, is inclined to believe that arədvī is an adjective which means “moist, humid” (HZ I, p. 71). 117 Ibid.

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goddess Artemis and thus fights against and defeats unrighteous enemies.118 In Middle Persian the title of Anāhitā was banug “lady”,119 which was rendered in Armenian as tikin, a title, as mentioned above, also indicating a woman occupying a high position in the tohm. It was used for the queen, too,120 as we shall see, for instance, in connection with Queen P‘aṙanjem. In Agat‘angełos’ History King Trdat speaks of the goddess as “the great Lady Anahit”, “the glory of our nation and our saviour”, “the mother of all virtues”, “the benefactor of all human nature”, and “the offspring of the great and noble Aramazd”,121 who is the source of protection for the whole race.122 These characterisations of the goddess leave little doubt that Anahit played a significant role in the religious life of pre-Christian Armenians.123 It is, therefore, not surprising that a large number of features of the ancient cult of Anahit, as demonstrated by Karen Melik‘-P‘ašayan, have been adapted and incorporated into the cult of the Virgin Mary.124 For instance, the spring celebration of fecundity associated with Anahit and celebrated on 6 April has become the Christian celebration of the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary.125 Similarly, the August celebration of fruit ripening, which used to have direct links to the cult of Anahit, has been substituted by the feast of the

118 119 120 121

Rose 2015, p. 275. See also HZ I, pp. 71–74, 173, and 176. Russell 1987, p. 245. EH, pp. 564–565. Aa  §53: Արդ՝ փոխանակ կենացն զոր պարտ էր առնել քեզ՝ յաճախեմ քեզ նեղութիւնս, եւ փոխանակ պատուին՝ անարգանս. եւ փոխանակ բարձ տալոյ եւ յառաջ ձգելոյ՝ բանդ եւ կապանս, եւ մահ՝ որ հատանէ զյոյս կենաց մարդկան, եթէ ոչ առնուցուս յանձն դիցն պաշտօն մատուցանել, մանաւանդ այսմ մեծի Անահտայ տիկնոջս, որ է փառք ազգիս մերոյ եւ կեցուցիչ, զոր եւ թագաւորք ամենայն պատուեն, մանաւանդ թագաւորն Յունաց. որ է մայր ամենայն զգաստութեանց, բարերար ամենայն մարդկան բնութեան, եւ ծնունդ է մեծին արին Արամազդայ; “So instead of the rewards which [I] should have bestowed

on you, I shall increase affliction upon you; and instead of honour, dishonour; and instead of giving rank and promotion, prison and bonds and death, which removes all hope of life for men – unless you agree to offer worship to the gods, and especially to the great lady Anahit. She is the glory of our nation and our saviour; her all kings honour, especially the king of the Greeks. She is the mother of all virtues, benefactor of all human nature, and the offspring of the great and noble Aramazd.” (emphasis mine). 122 Ibid., §127: Ողջոյն հասեալ եւ շինութիւն դիցն օգնականութեամբ, … խնամակալութիւն յԱնահիտ տիկնոջէ …; “May there be health and prosperity by the help of the gods, … protection from Lady Anahit …” 123 See also the discussion of the representation of Anahit in Agat‘angełos’ Prologue and the Life in Chapter 3 of the present work. 124 Melik‘-P‘ašayan 1963, pp. 126–155. 125 Ibid., p. 128.


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Assumption of the Virgin, when grapes and other ripened fruit are blessed in church and distributed among the believers.126 The Sumero – Akkadian goddess Nanē (Nanā, Nanaia) was another deity revered by the Armenians, though to a much lesser degree than Anahit. Under the influence of Zoroastrianism, Nanē was preserved in later Armenian tradition as the daughter of Aramazd.127 She shared many characteristics with Anahit, which they both inherited from the ancient cult of the Great Mother Goddess.128 Nanē was worshiped as the goddess of fertility, whose sphere of influence lay in everything that was related to giving birth: “earth, water, sex and motherhood.”129 Furthermore, three out of seven great Zoroastrian Aməša Spəntas (Bounteous Immortals) – Spəntā Ārmaiti (Arm. S(p)andaramet), Haurvatāt (Arm. Hawrot) and Amǝrǝtāt (Arm. Mawrot), which were also female deities – were highly praised and worshipped in Armenia. Each deity represented a specific entity that was sacred for Zoroastrians: Spəntā Ārmaiti – Bounteous Devotion or Obedience, Haurvatāt – Wholeness or Health, Amǝrǝtāt – Life.130 While Spəntā Ārmaiti was associated with earth, Haurvatāt and Amǝrǝtāt were associated with water and plants respectively.131 With time the names of the Aməša Spəntas came to be used for the entities they represented.132 In Armenian, for instance, the name of Spəntā Ārmaiti is found in various forms such as sandarametk‘, meaning “Hades or the underworld,” or as an adjective sanda­rametakan meaning “of/from the underworld”;133 as for Haurvatāt and Amǝrǝtāt, they are preserved in the name of a flower, hawrot-mawrot.134 It is interesting that the adjectives hawrot/hawrotik or xawrot/xawrotik are still used in some dialects of Armenian in the meaning of ‘beautiful, pretty.’ The only goddess that has preserved her Armenian name is Astłik (‘little star’). Agat‘angełos mentions that at Yaštišat the pagan Armenians worshipped Anahit, Vahagn, and his consort Astłik rendered in Greek as Aphrodite.135 126 Ibid., pp. 135–137. 127 Aa §786. 128 Russell 1987, p. 235. 129 Ibid., p. 237. 130 HZ I, p. 203. 131 Ibid., pp. 203–206. 132 Ibid., p. 205. 133 These are two of the examples that Russell adduces. For a full discussion, see Russell 1987, pp. 325–329. 134 See Dumézil 1926, pp. 43–69, referring to M. Abełyan, and also Russell 1987, pp. 375–398. 135 Aa §809: Զի յայնժամ դեռ եւս շէն կային երեք բագինք ի նմա. առաջին` մեհեանն Վահէվանեան, երկրորդն` Ոսկեմօր Ոսկեծին դից, եւ բագինն իսկ յայս անուն անուանեալ Ոսկեհատ Ոսկեմօր դից. եւ երրորդ` մեհեանն անուանեալ

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Scholars seem to agree that the cult of Astłik is closely related to the worship of the Great Mother Goddess, as well as to Syrian goddess Kaukabta and Hurrian goddess Hebat.136 Hence, Astłik shares some of the characteristics of Anahit and Nanē, and is considered to be the goddess of love and motherhood. The features attributed to the supreme female goddesses reveal some of the attitudes of patriarchal society regarding ideals which ought to be emulated. The use of Anahit’s title tikin to denote the rank of mortal women, or the metonymic use of a deity’s name to describe something that is associated with it, indicates that the religious and social worlds were neatly interwoven. Women were perceived as producers and carers of new life (Nanē, Anahit, Astłik, Haurvatāt, and Amǝrǝtāt), their main virtue being spiritual and physical purity and obedience (Anahit, Spəntā Ārmaiti), but they also possessed a certain amount of authority stemming from their status (Anahit). Women delivered children into this world and were responsible for their edification through which they would differentiate between good and evil and contribute to the common cause by fighting the dark forces. In the course of several, centuries these religious beliefs and attitudes were naturalised in customary law, establishing social norms which regulated the interaction of members of society even after the introduction of Christianity to Armenia. The Armenian Church leaders were also bearers of these values and, after assuming authority over the religious domain of the country, their task was to suggest a sustainable compromise between the customary values and the new religion. Their efforts and methods are reflected in the texts on which the present study focuses. 6


This overview of the culture, mentality, habits, customs, traditions, religious beliefs, and socio-political organisation of pre-Christian Armenian society, based on the extant fragments of information, is by no means exhaustive. It nevertheless outlines the background against which we can gain deeper appreciation of the numerous allusions to traditional cultural and spiritual values Աստղկան դից, Սենեակ Վահագնի կարդացեալ, որ է ըստ յունականին Ափրոդիտէս; “It was called Yaštišat from the frequent sacrifices of the site, for at that

time there still stood three altars in it. The first was the temple of Vahagn; the second that of the Golden-mother, the Golden-born goddess, and the altar was called after her golden of the Golden-mother goddess; the third was the temple named for the goddess Astłik, called the concubine of Vahagn, who is in Greek Aphrodite.” 136 Russell 1987, p. 29; Petrosyan 2004, p. 218.


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and attitudes which early Christian Armenian authors presented and often challenged in their writings. The institution of the family (azg, tohm, tun, ǝntanik‘) was the most important unit of the largely male-centred naxarar system, and its preservation and welfare was the concern of its every member, both men and women. As was the case with many ancient cultures, the sustainability of pre-Christian Arsacid Armenian society was based on the division of spheres of activity and influence which presupposed a clear distribution of responsibilities: men were in charge of the public sphere, while women were preoccupied with the domestic space, which, nevertheless, played a crucial role in the welfare of the entire society. This order was sustained through compliance with the norms and values of the customary law (awrēnk‘), with the transgressors being condemned as anawrēn (unrighteous, iniquitous). As far as religion was concerned, pre-Christian Armenians practised a form of Zoroastrianism, with the goddess Anahit being one of the most important and revered deities. The relatively equitable treatment of feminine and masculine divinities and the absence of overt gender discrimination in the religious ideology of Zoroastrianism, alongside the high esteem for the social institution of motherhood expressed in the worship of the life-giving ability of several Armenian goddesses, could be the main reason why the early Christian Armenian texts adopted a favourable and much less patronizing tone while speaking about women than the Greek and Syriac Church Fathers. This may also explain why in the works of early Armenian historians there are quite a few women (predominantly of the upper-class) who appear to possess enough authority to transform social relations outside their household and to influence the course of events in the public sphere. Thus, the pre-Christian understanding of the role of women in society as partners of men in their struggle against evil seems to have been deemed entirely appropriate by the early Christian Armenian authors.

part 2 Representation

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The Representation of St Sanduxt in The Martyrdom of St Thaddeus and Sanduxt 1


The two narratives of Armenia’s Christianisation, the anonymous Martyrdom of St Thaddeus and Sanduxt1 and Agat‘angełos’ History of the Armenians, have preserved a memory of glorious, powerful women who actively participated in both the conversion of the nation and the subsequent propagation of the Christian faith. While the latter seems to have some historical basis and may offer valuable information about Armenian history, MartThad should be treated as a carefully constructed literary work not rooted in historical events, which can only provide insights into the value system of its author and his milieu. We should not, however, forget that no matter how heavily these stories were rhetorically modified and to what degree they were based on real events, they survived in communal memory and were perceived as authentic by many generations. Both conversion narratives follow the same pattern: conversion from top to bottom. Representatives of the elite are baptised first, and they subsequently facilitate the transmission of religious beliefs to the general public, frequently resorting to violent methods. Christianity is brought to Armenia by a male figure, but to ensure its spread in the country holy women’s blood must be shed. Thus, early Christian Armenian clerics create an enduring and powerful narrative tradition of Christianisation, in which female and male characters act together and it is only through their effective collaboration that the conversion is successfully carried out. Regarding the target audience of Agat‘angełos’ work at the time of its creation in the fifth century, and its purpose, Robert Thomson asserts that Agat‘angełos was writing in a milieu “dominated by biblical and hagiographical terms; and where ecclesiastical considerations were paramount”, that is in “the circle that produced the first translations from Greek and Syriac into

1 The English translation of the passages from MartThad used in the present study is mine. For the recent French translation, see Calzolari 2011a, pp. 51–88.

© David Zakarian, 2021 | doi:10.1163/9789004445031_004


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Armenian and then the first original compositions”.2 The aim of their activity was the spread of Christian beliefs by means of education and the strengthening of the position of the church, which could happen only with the patronage of the naxarars, especially after the abolition of Arsacid rule. Considering its content, language, and the proximity in time of writing, we can safely assume that the milieu of the production of MartThad was not much different from that of Agat‘angełos’ History. Hence, both works seem to have targeted primarily noble audiences, which is further supported by the fact that almost all the main characters of these narratives are people of noble origin. And yet, due to the widespread popularity of these stories they must have been known to the representatives of all social groups. MartThad reflects the Syriac strand of Armenian Christianity. Being expanded from the Syriac Teaching of Addai, this story recounts the missionary activity of the Apostle Thaddeus in Armenia and attempts to forge a connection between the establishment of the Armenian Church and the apostolic tradition.3 Moreover, it shares a common sentiment found in early Christian Armenian historiographical texts that presents the Armenians as the elect people who are destined to participate fully in the providential plan.4 St Thaddeus is the central figure of the narrative, for he is the one who is authorised by Jesus Christ to come to Armenia and to preach “the word of life”.5 Nonetheless, very early in the storyline the apostle acquires a faithful female companion, King Sanatruk’s daughter Sanduxt, who becomes the main protagonist of the second part of the story. Even though she will repeatedly reinforce the primacy of the apostle,6 Sanduxt does not become a passive recipient of his teaching 2 Thomson 1976, p. lxxxvii. 3 Calzolari 2011a, pp. 19–20 and 29–31. 4 Ibid., p. 44 and Calzolari 2015, p. 391. 5 MartThad, p. 11: զի նա [Թադէոս] էր քարոզ բանին կենաց … զի առաքեցաւ յամենափրկչէն մերմէ Յիսուսէ Քրիստոսէ; “for he [T‘adēos] was the preaching of the word of life … for he was sent by Jesus Christ, our Saviour of all.” 6 See, e.g., ibid., p. 14: եւ [Սանդուխտ] հասեալ ի գիշերի առ սուրբ առաքեալն լսէր ի նմանէ զբանն քարոզութեան աւետարանին, եւ զձայն երկնաւոր զօրացն, եւ ընդունէր, եւ անկանէր առաջի սուրբ ոտից նորա, եւ արտասուօք համբուրէր, եւ ուսանէր ի նմանէ զբազում աւուրս; “and upon reaching the holy apostle by night, she

[Sanduxt] heard from him the preached word of the gospel and the voice of the heavenly hosts, and she accepted [it], and she prostrated at his holy feet, and with tears kissed [them], and for many days she had been taught by him”; ibid., p. 27: Եւ տեսեալ զսուրբ առաքեալն զի աղօթէր եւ լոյս մեծ ի վերայ նորա, զահի հարեալ սուրբն Սանդուխտ` անկանէր ի վերայ երեսաց իւրոց արտասուօք եւ համբուրէր զգարշապարս առնն Աստուծոյ եւ ասէր. Տեր իմ եւ հայր, որ գտեր զիս զմոլորեալս, եւ ծանուցեր ինձ զերկնաւոր զտէրն իմ զՅիսուս Քրիստոս զմիածին որդին …; “And seeing the holy apostle in prayer

with a bright light over him, awestruck Sanduxt fell on her face, and with tears kissed the

The Representation of St Sanduxt


but demonstrates strong personality traits, repeatedly challenging her father’s, King Sanatruk’s authority and subverting the established order. 2

St Thecla as a Literary Model for Armenian Authors

The powerful and virtuously subversive character of Thecla from the late second-century apocryphal Acts of Paul and Thecla was enormously popular in fifth-century Armenia7 and served as an inspiration and model for the representation of the most influential female martyrs of early Christian Armenia, Sanduxt and Hṙip‘simē.8 As convincingly demonstrated by Calzolari through an intertextual reading of the relevant texts, the Armenian author of MartThad was not only well-acquainted with the Armenian translation of the Acts of Paul and Thecla, but many aspects of his narrative, including the representation of Sanduxt, also bore discernible traces of that apocryphal text’s influence.9 Thecla’s strong faith and independent agency seem to have been the character traits that the fifth-century Armenian authors valued and willingly adopted for the representation of their heroines. Over the centuries Thecla’s reputation continued to grow amongst the Christian communities in both the East and the West.10 In addition to the Acts of Paul and Thecla, new stories of Thecla’s feats emerged and became part of popular culture. The main traits of Thecla’s character found their reflection in the fifth-century Greek text of the Life and the Miracles of Saint Thecla, in which Thecla is presented as ἡ ἁγία πρωτομάρτυς (saint protomartyr), ἡ ἀπόστολος (female apostle), and ἡ καλλίνικος καὶ χριστοφόρος παρθένος (gloriously triumphant and Christ-bearing virgin).11 From the fourth century onwards, however, the Greek and Latin Church Fathers primarily extolled Thecla’s

soles of the feet of the man of God, and said, ‘My Lord and my father, who found me when I was lost and introduced me to my heavenly Lord Jesus Christ, [God’s] only son …’.” 7 In Calzolari’s words (2017, p. 23), “La quantità considerevole di manoscritti che attestano la versione armena basterebbe per dimostrare il successo riscontrato da Tecla in Armenia.” For more details, see also ibid., pp. 47–107. 8 See ibid., pp. 47–80. For the representation of Hṙip‘simē, see the next chapter. 9 Calzolari 2015, pp. 392–407. 10 For the reception and circulation of stories about Thecla in Armenia in medieval times, see Calzolari 2017, pp. 3–163. 11 Dagron 1978, Vie. title and Pr., pp. 168–169; Mir. 27:47–48, p. 360. For the critical edition of the Armenian texts of the Life and the Miracles, as well as the Italian translation of both texts, see Calzolari 2017, pp. 411–485.


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virginal state and purity, concurrently downplaying her roles of protomartyr and apostle.12 This latter development did not occur in Armenian ecclesiastical circles. The general approach of the Armenian authors involved adopting a model which was more consistent and appropriate for the needs of the church they represented and for the communities for whom they were composing their texts. In the case of Thecla, her image of the female protomartyr (even though she survives the persecutions), apostle, and holy virgin was the one that the Armenian authors actually reproduced in their heroines, stressing not only Sanduxt and Hṙip‘simē’s chastity and sacrifice in the name of Christ but also the significance of their apostolic mission and deeds. 3

The Representation of Sanduxt

As mentioned in the introductory chapter, MartThad closely follows the classical pattern of the apocryphal acts: the female protagonist is always of noble origin, sometimes related to the pagan ruler of the area; she embraces Christianity and chooses the life of chastity, which enrages the tyrant, who puts her and the apostle to death.13 Sanduxt’s representation fully complies with these conventions of the genre: she is the beloved daughter of the Armenian King Sanatruk;14 she is converted to Christianity by the Apostle Thaddeus, and both of them are subsequently martyred by the king. At the beginning of the narrative Sanduxt’s royal status is underscored15 and she is introduced as being “of young age, with a beautiful mien and pretty countenance, the like of whom was not to be found upon the earth”.16 With the exception of Hṙip‘simē, none of the female Christian saints who might have served as a prototype for Sanduxt’s character are described to possess the

12 Ibid., pp. 49–50 and Hayne 1994, p. 215. 13 Calzolari 2011a, p. 171. 14 MartThad, p. 25: խորհուրդ արարեալ թագաւորին վասն դստերն իւրոյ Սանդխտոյ, թէ զի՞նչ պարտ է առնել. վասն սպանման ոչ կարէր տալ հրաման, վասն աղէտի գթոյ հայրութեանն, զի առաւել սիրէր; “he contemplated what he was

to do with his daughter Sanduxt. He could not order her killing because of his fatherly affection, for he loved her most of all.” 15 Ibid., p. 14: դուստր թագաւորին, որում անուն էր Սանդուխտ; “the daughter of the king, whose name was Sanduxt.” 16 Ibid., p. 14: ի տիոց տղայ, գեղեցիկ տեսլեամբ եւ վայելուչ երեսօք, որ ոչ գտանէր համեմատ նմա ի վերայ երկրի.

The Representation of St Sanduxt


same characteristic features.17 In fact, this portrayal of Sanduxt is reminiscent of the goddess Anahit’s portrayal in Yašt 5.126, where her high social status and beautiful looks are also extolled: “Displayed in the shape of a beautiful young woman, Ardwī Sūrā Anāhitā stands most powerful and high-born, well-shaped and girded high, upright and splendid in her brilliance …”18 There is, however, no evidence to suggest that Sanduxt’s description was based on the characterisation of Anahit from the ancient Zoroastrian text, but it seems reasonable to assume that in the imagination of the Armenians, Anahit, one of the most influential and beloved deities in pre-Christian Armenia, served as a model for the representation of an ideal woman. In this regard, it does not seem accidental that from amongst other Zoroastrian deities only Anahit is mentioned three times in this text as a powerful symbol of the old religion.19 Thus, Sanduxt’s representation as a beautiful young woman of royal origin, who would show strong character, must have held considerable appeal to the audience.20 Such representation could also have been part of a deliberate strategy to create an appealing Christian role model for Armenians to emulate in their own lives by substituting the image of the Zoroastrian deity with that of a human being with similar traits. 17 Here I refer to the possible prototypes mentioned by Calzolari (2011a, p. 171), namely Thecla in The Acts of Paul and Thecla, Maximilla in The Acts of St Andrew, Mygdonia and Tertia in The Acts of Thomas, and Oguhi in the Armenian Martyrdom of Bartholomew. 18 Skjærvø 2011, p. 62. 19 MartThad, p. 23 (մեծ աստուածն Անահիտ; “the great god Anahit”); p. 38 (Արամազդ եւ Անահիտ մեծ աստուածք որ են շինութիւն աշխարհիս եւ փառք թագաւորացս; “Aramazd and Anahit, the great gods, who are the prosperity of this land and the glory of our kings”); p. 50 (ես գողացա զնա [զՍանդուխտ] … յանդնդային պտուտից չարամեռ եւ խաւարային գործոց չար պաշտամանցն ձերոց, որք ձօնեալքդ էք Անահտայ կռամոլ դիվացն; “I stole her [Sanduxt] … from the infernal vortex of the


murderous and dark deeds of your evil worship which you have dedicated to the idolatrous dews of Anahit”). In a valuable literary monument known as “King Husrav and his Boy” (ca early seventh century ce), which was preserved in Pahlavi and Arabic versions and was most likely used for recreation in the Persian court, the ideal woman is also described from a distinctively male perspective as the one with beautiful looks: “‘Which woman is the best?’ The boy says: ‘May you be immortal! that woman is the best who in her thoughts is a friend of man, and – as regard her stature – whose height is mediocre, and whose thorax is broad, [and whose] head, buttocks [and] neck are well formed, and whose feet are small, and waist slender, and soles of the feet [a little bit] arched, the toes long, and whose limbs supple and tight, and the breasts [resembling] quinces, and whose nails are snowy [white] and whose complexion has the colour of pomegranate, and whose eyes are like almonds, [whose] eye-brows [are as if they are made] of the [black] kid-skin, the teeth white and tender and * ? * and the locks black, and reddish [in the shine] and long, and who does not speak any word on the dress of man in an unmannerly way’” (Unvala 1921, pp. 35–36).


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As the narrative unfolds, Sanduxt’s identity undergoes a remarkable transformation from a young, beautiful maiden into a potent symbol of Armenian Christianity. After she is baptised by the apostle and receives a sign of heavenly light, Sanduxt is referred to as a “holy virgin”.21 In the subsequent narrative she is interchangeably presented as “saint Sanduxt”22 and the Lord’s (holy) “handmaiden”.23 Finally, when she is martyred, and laid to rest by St Thaddeus, the narrator calls her “the blessed holy lady” (eraneli surb tikin).24 The latter characterisation is especially remarkable, for the phrase surb tikin (holy lady) is also used for St Thecla in the Epic Histories25 and, as noted in the previous chapter, for the goddess Anahit. Thus, by the end of the narrative, through her acts and manifestation of fervent belief, Sanduxt assumes her new identity of the “holy lady”. In order to create an attractive and powerful role model for his audience, the author endeavours to portray Sanduxt acting in what he believes to be a socially appropriate and desirable way, perceived as acceptable, if not commendable, within the framework of customary law. In this regard, the representation of her agency and experience in the narrative is highly revealing for our understanding of the social roles and patterns of behaviour that a noblewoman could and should adopt in early Christian Armenia. What the audience might initially have perceived as scandalous is Sanduxt’s open defiance of her father’s authority. However, as in the case of Hṙip‘simē’s bold disobedience to the Emperor Diocletian and King Trdat, Sanduxt’s actions are justified by the fact that her father rejects the supreme authority of the true God, for which he is referred to as anawrēn t‘agawor (“iniquitous king”),26 a phrase which has connotations of disregard for customary law. According to Sanduxt, his unrighteousness springs from his faith in “the ghosts

21 MartThad, p. 14: Եւ տեսեալ սուրբ առաքելոյն զջերմեռանդն գութ սիրոյ նորա առ Քրիստոս, առեալ մկրտէր զնա յանուն Հօր եւ Որդւոյ եւ Հոգւոյն սըրբոյ: Եւ եղեւ նշան լուսեղէն յերկնից ի վերայ սրբոյ կուսին … “And seeing her ardent, tender love towards Christ, the holy apostle baptised her in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. And a luminous sign from the heaven appeared above the holy virgin …”. 22 See, e.g., ibid., pp. 17, 25, 26–28. 23 See, e.g., ibid., pp. 18, 32, 45. 24 Ibid., p. 46: Եւ առեալ զմարմին սրբոյն Սանդխտոյ` [առաքեալն] եդ ի նմին տեղւոջ եւ արար աներեւոյթ զհանգստարանն երանելի սուրբ տիկնոջն; “And having received the body of holy Sanduxt, he [the apostle] buried her in that same place, and made the resting place of the blessed holy lady invisible.” 25 EH, IV.x. For a detailed study of this episode, see Calzolari 1997, pp. 39–49. 26 MartThad, p. 26.

The Representation of St Sanduxt


of dead idols that neither see nor hear”,27 whereas her God is the one “that has created everything from nothing, and has settled all the creatures by the word of his mouth”.28 This provides her with the moral right to subvert her father’s authority. Besides her earthly status of princess, Sanduxt’s character assumes more authority in the narrative when she communicates with Christ without an intermediary. Among the multitude of believers whom the heathen king orders to kill, Christ singles out Sanduxt and is said to speak to her directly: he praises her for renouncing her lawless father and earthly glory, and for calling him “Father”, and promises to bestow upon her “the supreme light which is brighter than [that] of many others”.29 Another instance of direct communication with the divine is found in the episode when Sanduxt, in distress, asks Christ for help, and he reassures her that he will not abandon her.30 Finally, Christ communicates with her through a vision which she receives in her dream. Sanduxt needs an interpretation for the vision, which is given by the authoritative figure of the apostle,31 but the mere fact that she is endowed with the ability to receive divine revelation is remarkable evidence of Sanduxt’s empowerment. Moreover, Sanduxt’s experience is by no means limited to being a passive recipient of St Thaddeus’s teaching. She possesses her own voice in the narrative, which is heard more often than that of Hṙip‘simē in Agat‘angełos’ History, but like Agat‘angełos’ heroine Sanduxt’s discourse is primarily, albeit 27 Ibid., p. 35: դուք պագանէք երկիր ուրուականաց կռոց մեռելոտեաց, որ ոչ տեսնեն եւ ոչ լսեն … 28 Ibid.: նա է Աստուած, որ արար զամենայն յոչընչէ, եւ հաստատեաց զամենայն արարածս բանիւ բերանով իւրով. 29 Ibid., pp. 18–19: Եւ դու, Սանդուխտ, որ եկիր զկնի իմ, եւ արհամարեցեր զերկրաւոր պատիւս, եւ կոչեցեր զիս հայր, տաց քեզ զվերագոյն լոյս, եւ առաւել պայծառ քան զբազմաց; “And you, Sanduxt, who followed me and rejected the earthly honours,

and called me Father, shall be given the supreme light which is brighter than [that] of many others.” 30 Ibid., p. 36: Իսկ սուրբն Սանդուխտ … ասէ. Տէր իմ Հիսուս Քրիստոս, փութա հաս ինձ յօգնականութիւն … եւ եղեւ ձայն որ ասէր. Քաջալերեաց դուստր իմ, զի ընդ քեզ եմ ի փրկել զքեզ …; “And holy Sanduxt … says, ‘My Lord Jesus Christ, hasten to help me …’ and there was a voice that said, ‘Be brave, my daughter, for I stand by you in order to save you …’.” In the extended version of the Greek Acts of Paul and Thecla, which has not been preserved in Armenian, similar dialogues can be found: “[Thecla] looked up into heaven and said, ‘God, terrible and incomparable and glorious to your adversaries … now also deliver me from these lawless men and let them not insult my virginity which for your name’s sake I have preserved till now because I love you and desire you and adore you, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost for ever. Amen.’ And there came a voice out of the heaven saying, ‘Fear not, Thecla, my true servant, for I am with you …” (Elliott 1993, p. 373). 31 MartThad, pp. 40–41.


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not exclusively, deployed to address God32 and her spiritual adviser,33 and to avow her Christian faith in the face of persecution. The anonymous author also describes how Sanduxt instructs others, with “a stentorian voice” encouraging her fellow Christians to “remain steadfast and be strong in Christ” despite the tribulations which they are about to face.34 Most importantly, Sanduxt preaches to the persecuted believers, and converts both common people and members of the nobility by working miracles35 as a true apostle, which may also imply that Sanduxt performs baptism,36 though no direct mention of it is found in the text. Finally, Sanduxt is presented as a compassionate person who, despite her royal status and young age, cares for the needs of the faithful that surround her. In one episode she lovingly attends to the bodies of her martyred companions and lays them to rest near the royal palace.37 On another occasion, she consoles the destitute believers in Christ and provides for all their needs.38 Through this account the author yet again endeavours to convey an unambiguous message about Christian values and ethics, and to set an inspiring example to his audience.

32 See, e.g., ibid., p. 36. 33 See, e.g., ibid., p. 32. 34 Ibid., p. 33: Ասէ սուրբն Սանդուխտ մեծաբարբառ ձայնիւ ցհաւատացեալ ընկերակիցսն իւր ցնծալով. Եղբարք իմ, պինդ կացէք եւ զօրացարուք ի Քրիստոս … “Rejoicing, Saint Sanduxt addressed her faithful companions with a stento-

rian voice: ‘My Brothers, remain steadfast and be strong in Christ’…”. 35 Ibid., p. 40: եւ [Սանդուխտ] քարոզէր զբանն կենաց, եւ դարձուցանէր զբազումս առնելով նշանս եւ սքանչելիս; “and [Sanduxt] preached the word of life and converted many by performing miracles and wonders.” These actions have impact not only on the lower strata of society, but they also influence the king’s court, for a lady called Zarmanduxt from amongst the relatives of the king converts to Christianity and is subsequently martyred (ibid.). 36 Cf. Didascalia apostolorum 3.9 and Apostolic Constitution 3.9.1–4 (Miller 2005, p. 65), which forbid women baptising. 37 MartThad, pp. 26–27: յայնժամ յղէր ի տուն իւր Սանդուխտ գաղտ ի հօրէն իւրմէ եւ տայր բերել բարակ կտաւս, եւ առեալ զհաւատացեալ սուրբ ընկերսն, ամփոփէր զմարմինս նոցա, համբուրէր եւ ասէր … եւ թաղէր զնոսա մոտ յապարանս իւր …; “at that time Sanduxt, secretly from her father, sent [someone] to fetch fine linen

from her house, and having enclosed [in it] the bodies of her companions-in-faith, she kissed [them] and said … and she buried them near her palace …” Cf. Aa §760, in which St Gregory himself takes care of the bodies of the martyred virgins. 38 MartThad, pp. 39–40: մխիթարէր սուրբն Սանդուխտ զամենայն հաւատացեալսն. կերակրէր զնոսա հացիւ եւ զգեցուցանէր հանդերձիւ, եւ ոչինչ առնէր նոցա պակաս …; “Saint Sanduxt comforted all the believers: she fed them and provided them

with clothes, and they would not lack anything …”.

The Representation of St Sanduxt



Additional Remarks

Undoubtedly, St Thecla’s representation in the Acts of Paul and Thecla served as a model for the anonymous author of MartThad to create the literary character of Sanduxt. The roles of preacher, female apostle, and young virgin which Sanduxt adopts, her unshakeable faith, and true zeal to support the apostle in his mission of evangelisation of non-believers are vividly reminiscent of Thecla. In both narratives, the protagonists are the apostles, and the female characters repeatedly acknowledge their supremacy. The two young virgins, nevertheless, with their subversive behaviour provoke the conflict and challenge patriarchal authority, thus contributing not only to the development of the plot, but also to reinforcing the messages which the authors wished to convey. And yet, the representation of Sanduxt contains certain deviations from the adopted model and reveals conscious choices made by the Armenian author to portray the character of his heroine in a way that would appeal to his Armenian audiences. With frequent references to the Armenian setting of the narrative39 and a firm intention to present the Armenian people as “God’s own people”,40 the anonymous author makes Sanduxt an authentically Armenian martyr and saint. Besides being courageous, compassionate, and steadfast in her faith, Sanduxt is also a beautiful, young Armenian princess who undermines the authority of her father, the king. Her royal status raises the prestige and symbolical significance of her sacrifice in the eyes of the audience and makes her an attractive role model for Armenian women. 5


The discussion of Sanduxt’s representation in MartThad allows us to draw several conclusions. First, it is apparent that the Armenian author creates a powerful and influential character in the female saint, who with her actions sets an example to Armenian women. She assumes authority as female apostle of the Armenians and begins to preach, convert, and, perhaps, even baptise. Disregarding her royal status, Sanduxt tends to the needs of the poor, provides them with food and clothing, and even washes the bodies of her perished comrades, preparing them for burial. 39 See, for instance, MartThad, pp. 11, 13, 26, 38, and 40. 40 Ibid., p. 31: արա զսոսա [զՀայս] ժողովուրդ յաւիտենական; “make them [the Armenians] eternal people”; and ibid., p. 49: Տէր Յիսուս Քրիստոս, մի թողուր ի ձեռանէ զսակաւ ժողովուրդս քո …; “Lord Jesus Christ, do not abandon your people who are few in numbers …”.


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The great influence of Thecla’s character on the portrayal of Sanduxt as a Christian saint is undeniable, but elements of the mentality and value system of the Armenians are, nonetheless, discernible in her representation. Sanduxt is a beautiful, pious woman of royal origin who displays strong character and bestows grace on both the rich and the poor. With these attributes Sanduxt bears striking resemblance to the goddess Anahit as she is depicted in Zoroastrian texts. In MartThad, Anahit, however, embodies the old religion which in the minds of Christian believers is associated with unrighteousness and evil, whereas Sanduxt is shown as the redeemer of the Armenians, who has come to replace the much-loved Zoroastrian goddess. This conversion narrative, which represents the Syriac strand of Armenia’s Christianisation, endows its female character with multifaceted agency. Was it the anonymous author’s conscious choice, prompted by the prevailing attitudes in society? Did women in pre- and early Christian Armenia in reality enjoy certain prerogatives in society? I believe the answer to these two questions is ‘yes’. With such representation of his main female character, the anonymous author and his sponsor(s) promoted their vision of the role of women in society by confirming already existing social relations. This could explain why in the fifth century, when the Greek Church Fathers developed a discourse of extoling and promoting only Thecla’s virginal state, the Armenian author chose to structure his representation of Sanduxt on the original, late-second-century image of Thecla the apostle, the female protomartyr, the preacher, and the holy virgin. In spite of the structural balance between female and male agency, on the content and representational levels, however, the supremacy of St Thaddeus is repeatedly acknowledged by the male narrator. It would therefore be fallacious to assume that this conversion narrative subverts the established patriarchal order of the naxarar society. Sanduxt’s actions are directed by St Thaddeus and the masculine Godhead of Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit, who empowered her in her struggle against the lawlessness of her father. Considering the consequences of such representation, the choice made by the anonymous author appears to have been in accordance with the initiative that had been introduced by the creation of the Armenian alphabet. By empowering the keepers of the domestic hearth and the traditional transmitters of religious values, the ecclesiastical and political elite of Armenia hoped that Christianity would more smoothly enter households and acquire many supporters. It would be tendentious to draw these conclusions were MartThad the only literary work from this period which represented women in this way. However, as we shall see in the next chapter, Agat‘angełos’ History of the Armenians, which has preserved the received tradition of Armenia’s Christianisation, also portrays its main female character, Hṙip‘simē, in a similar way.

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Women in Agat‘angełos’ History of the Armenians 1


Agat‘angełos’ History of the Armenians is one of the most influential and significant texts in the Armenian historiographical tradition, for it covers the momentous event of the conversion of the country and represents the received tradition of Armenia’s Christianisation. It was very popular throughout the Middle Ages and had a profound influence on the mentality and self-definition of the Armenians. Later literary, theological, and historiographical sources regularly referred to Agat‘angełos’ oeuvre with the characters of Hṙip‘simē, Trdat, and Gregory featuring as potent symbols of Armenian Christianity.1 The visual images of the History’s protagonists were also commonly produced and disseminated in different forms, such as carvings on churches, manuscript illuminations, and funerary monuments.2 Agat‘angełos’ representation of women and their role in the process of the transformation of Armenian society not only reflects the enigmatic author and his circle’s vision of the position of women in the new religion, but it also informs us about the values that Armenians cherished and endeavoured to preserve. Numerous recensions of this work indicate that it was one of the “stories 1 One of the first extant literary pieces dedicated to the sacrifice of Hṙip‘simē and her companions, a long šarakan (hymn) “Kanon Srboc‘ Hṙip‘simēanc‘ (Anjink‘ Nuirealk‘),” was composed by the Armenian Catholicos Komitas Ałc‘ec‘i (sixth-seventh centuries) (1853, pp. 487–501; see also Hacikyan et al. 2002, pp. 46–47 and 905–907). In the twelfth century the prominent Armenian theologian and Catholicos Nersēs Šnorhali dedicated to Agat‘angełos’ conversion narrative several lyrical pieces such as Tał i Surbn Hṙip‘simē, i Nersisē Hayoc‘ Kat‘ołikosē Asac‘eal (Ode to Saint Hṙip‘simē composed by the Armenian Catholicos Nersēs) and Tał Srboc‘ Hṙip‘simeac‘ (Ode to Saint Hṙip‘simē and Her Companions) (K‘yoškeryan 1987, pp. 269–270 and 274–279). For a comprehensive overview of the tradition of textual transmission of Agat‘angełos’ work in the Middle Ages, see Thomson 2010, pp. 24–87. 2 Visual representations of this conversion narrative are found, for instance, in the Ōjun (Awjun) funerary monument located about 10 metres from the church of the Holy Mother of God (fifth-seventh centuries) (see Azaryan 1965, pp. 214–215). Scenes referring to King Trdat’s metamorphosis are also found on a fragment of a pedestal from K‘asał (Aparan), on a stele from Karmrak‘ar (former Darband), as well as on a burial memorial and several fragments of monuments from T‘alin (see Aṙak‘elyan 1949, pp. 43–44 and 51–54). For the link between the vision of St Gregory, as presented in different recensions of Agat‘angełos’ oeuvre, and the architectural typology of the Mother Church of Ēǰmiacin, see Garibian de Vartavan 2003–2004, pp. 432–442.

© David Zakarian, 2021 | doi:10.1163/9789004445031_005


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people want[ed]”.3 Because of its high literary value and significant ideological implications its popularity grew over the centuries and it was perceived as a truthful account of Armenia’s Christianisation by many generations.4 Like the author of MartThad, Agat‘angełos portrays his female characters in a distinctly positive light, for they are shown to be assuming the authority to effect a profound social change. Agat‘angełos does not limit himself to producing only the image of a female virgin martyr, but he also mentions women of different social backgrounds playing important roles in his narrative. For the author, the men are the protagonists, but they are unable to accomplish their mission without the substantial assistance of women. 2

The Literary Aspects of the Text

Agat‘angełos’ History can be conveniently divided into five parts, as it is done by Tēr-Mkrtč‘ean and Kanayeanc‘ in the 1909 edition: The Prologue of Agat‘angełos (Yaṙaǰaban Agat‘angełeay), The Life and Account of St Gregory (Vark‘ ew Patmut‘iwn Srboyn Grigori), The Martyrdom of the Hṙip‘simian (Virgins) (Vkayabanut‘iwn Hṙip‘simeac‘n), The Teaching of St Gregory (Vardapetut‘iwn S. Grigori), The Redemptive Conversion of the Land of Armenia (Darj P‘rkut‘ean Ašxarhis Hayastan). The storyline follows a linear order of events in which the causes and consequences are skilfully intertwined to create an effect of a cohesive story with St Gregory and King Trdat featuring as its main protagonists. Yet, the structure of the narrative is heavily dependent on the agency of the female characters, most of whom are of noble origin. In Valentina Calzolari’s words, Pour que son œuvre missionnaire puisse trouver un terrain fertile en Arménie, il fallait au préalable que la terre arménienne soit imprégnée du sang de femmes vierges. C’est en effet seulement après le martyre de Hripsimé et de ses compagnes que l’œuvre ‘illuminatrice’ de Grégoire put se manifester.5

3 This is the title of Averil Cameron’s Chapter Three (1991, pp. 89–119), in which she underlines the importance of stories such as the Lives, Acts, and Passions of Christian saints and martyrs “for the diffusion of Christianity as a whole” (ibid., p. 89). 4 Cf. ibid., p. 93: “The better these stories [i.e. “stories people want”] were constructed, the better they functioned as structure-maintaining narratives and the more their audiences were disposed to accept them as true.” 5 Calzolari 2011b, p. 180.

Women in Agat ‘ angełos ’ History of the Armenians


Moreover, it is Trdat’s sister, Xosroviduxt, who urges the Armenians to bring St Gregory out of the pit, after which he begins his mission of conversion, accompanied throughout by her and another female figure, Trdat’s wife Queen Ašxēn. Agat‘angełos urges his audiences to believe that God has not forsaken them, and that the Armenian people, indeed, play an important part in heaven’s design.6 In their eyes the enigmatic author strives to validate the authority of the Armenian Church and the first patriarch, as well as to point at the primacy of the church of Vałaršapat, which is established after the martyrdom of Hṙip‘simē and her companions. Allegory, metaphor, and symbolism are amongst the most common literary devices deployed by Agat‘angełos. In this respect, Nina Garsoïan has significantly advanced our understanding of this seminal work of Armenian literature. On the basis of the episode of King Trdat’s metamorphosis into a boar,7 she demonstrated that Agat‘angełos, whose narrative is largely dependent on biblical models and motifs,8 deliberately used non-Christian, more specifically Zoroastrian, symbols which were obviously well-known and understandable to his audience.9 It was a consciously and carefully chosen strategy aimed at reaching and transforming the minds of those whose worldview was still imbued with pagan concepts and ideals. The representation of women should also be considered part of that same strategy. Another literary device often employed by Agat‘angełos is antithesis. As in the works of early Christian authors, the contrast between paganism and Christianity is at the forefront of his argument: the former is associated with impurity, lawlessness, and evil, whereas the latter – with purity, righteousness, and goodness. In St Gregory’s address to King Trdat, for instance, Agat‘angełos highlights this opposition: he characterises the fire-worship, that is the pre-Christian religion of the Armenian people, as “lawlessness” (anawrēnut‘iwn), and juxtaposes it to the true faith of Christians.10 Thus, by denigrating the religion of Trdat, St Gregory strives to raise Christianity to the status 6 7 8 9 10

Ibid., p. 179. Aa §§211–213. Thomson 1976, pp. lxxx–lxxxvii. Garsoïan 1982, pp. 151–174. Aa §64; Վասն զի նա [Քրիստոս] ինքն է կենդանութիւն, զի նորոգեսցէ զշունչս մարդկան՝ զգեցեալ նովին մարմնով. եւ ապա յայտնի արասցէ ըստ իւրաքանչիւր վաստակոցն զիւրաքանչիւր հատուցմունս. զի նա արձակեսցէ զկապեալս ի տանէ կապանաց կռապաշտութեան, որ կապեալ են ի մեղս եւ խզեսցէ զշղթայս անօրէնութեան՝ որ են իբրեւ զքեզդ; “He [Christ] himself is life so

that he may renew the souls of men, having been clothed in the same flesh. Then he will reveal each one’s recompense for each one’s labours. He will bring forth the bound from


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of law, awrēnk‘. To achieve this, the author continually reveals the anawrēn (‘unrighteous’ or ‘lawless’) nature of the Zoroastrian religion11 through the chastisement of its followers, certain customs, beliefs, and practices,12 and he opposes it to the manifestations of “the lawful religion”13 or “the righteous faith” of Christians.14 The choice of words is not accidental either. Agat‘angełos strives to appeal to the Iranian mentality of the Armenian nobility by manipulating and redefining concepts and categories such as “purity”, “chastity”, “righteousness”, and so forth, which are familiar to his audience, for they occupied an equally prominent place in Zoroastrianism. In addition, Agat‘angełos touches upon the practice of sexual renunciation, since virginity as the ideal Christian state of life was in discord with the principles of Zoroastrian religion that sees fertility as a divine grace bestowed upon humans.15 To what extent this aspect of Christian purity was embraced by Armenians is not entirely clear from the the house of bondage to idolatry, those who are bound in sin; and he will break the chains of lawlessness [for] those who are like you.” 11 In Aa §149 Agat‘angełos calls the religion of pagans անօրէն կրօն, “lawless religion”, which is opposed to կրօն օրինաւոր, “lawful religion” of Christians (ibid., §143). In addition, in §280 Satan is called Անօրէն իշխան, “lawless prince”, which might be an allusion to the apostate “princes” of the 450–451 rebellion. 12 In Aa §163 azatk‘ and common people are described as jostling “one another in the passion of their dissolute concupiscence and the debauched, polluted and heathen habits of their deranged minds” (Նա եւ ազատակոյտն, խառնաճաղանճ ամբոխիւն հանդերձ, զմիմեամբք դիզանէին ի միմեանց վերայ, առ պակշոտ յիմարութեան ցոփութեան բարոյիցն, այլանդակ մտացն զեղխութեան գիճութեանն հեթանոսաբար սովորութեանցն). This description associates the old habits of peo-

ple with pollution and uncontrolled sexual behaviour, opposed to the virginal chaste state of the female martyrs. 13 Ibid., §143: Իսկ երանելին պարկեշտասէրն Գայիանէ, սրբասնելովն Հռիփսիմեաւ հանդերձ եւ այլ ընկերօքն իւրեանց, յիշեալ զուխտն սրբութեան, զօրինաւոր կրօնիցն զգաստութեան սրբութիւնն յոր մտեալ էին…; “Then the

blessed and chaste Gaiane, with the saintly Rhipsime and their other companions, remembered the covenant of holiness, the religious rule of holy chastity into which they had entered …” (emphasis mine). Note that in the Armenian version of II Mac. 4.11 we find the same expression, զկրօնսն օրինաւորս. 14 Ibid., §159: այլ ի վերայ աշտանակացն ոսկւոց զարդարելոց, եւ ոսկւովք ճրագարանօք զիւղն պարարտութեան անուշութեան, զարդարութեան հաւատոցն` վառեալ զլոյսն համապայծառ; “but on the candlesticks ornamented


with gold and with golden torches one should kindle the glorious light, the oil of sweet plenty of the righteous faith” (emphasis mine). In sacred Zoroastrian books there are many references to fertility as a great virtue. A revealing example is found in Yasna 11.1 and 3, in which two pure creatures, the cow and sacred Haoma, curse their offenders by wishing them to have no offspring (Mills 1887, pp. 244–245).

Women in Agat ‘ angełos ’ History of the Armenians


extant sources,16 and although in Agat‘angełos’ History it is explicitly highlighted and praised, the virginal state is not presented as an indispensable quality for redemption. 3

The Prologue and the Life

In the Prologue (§§1–17) Agat‘angełos announces that he intends, amongst other things, to tell his audience about the arrival of “God’s beloved martyrs” in Armenia, “who arose like luminaries to scatter the mist of darkness from the land of Armenia; then how they gave up their lives for God’s truth.”17 The martyrs are not named and no allusion is made concerning their gender, but the subsequent unfolding of events evinces that he was referring to Hṙip‘simē and her companions. The word lusawork‘ (“luminaries,” literally “the ones that emit light”, Gk. φωστῆρες)18 anticipates their significant role in the illumination of the Armenian nation, that is the baptism and the delivery of true divine knowledge.19 It is additionally supported in §78, when St Gregory uses the word lusawork‘ in connection with God’s prophets on earth within a similar context,20 and later again in §572 when St Gregory calls the Hṙip‘simian virgins “apostles of yours” (i.e. of the Armenian people).21 He subsequently 16 For the discussion of female ascetic practices in early medieval Armenia, see Chapter 4. 17 Aa §13: վասն սիրելեաց վկայիցն Աստուծոյ … իբրեւ լուսաւորք ծագեցին, փարատել զմէգ խավարի ի Հայաստան աշխարհէս. կամ որպէս զանձինս իւրեանց փոխանակեցին ընդ Աստուծոյ ճշմարտութեանն. It is noteworthy that in

the same paragraph we find a clear hint about the heterogeneity of the narratives which Agat‘angełos put together: although in the subsequent narrative St Gregory’s coming out of prison and evangelising the country is deeply dependent on the martyrdom of the nuns, a mention of this dependence is entirely missing in the Prologue, and the acts of the nuns and of St Gregory are presented as separate events. 18 Cf. Gen. 1.14. In the Armenian version of the Bible we find: Եւ ասաց Աստուած. Եղիցի՛ն լուսաւորք ի հաստատութեան երկնից, ի լուսաւորութիւն ի վերայ երկրի. և մեկնել ի մէջ տուընջեան, և ի մէջ գիշերոյ. և եղիցին ի նշանս, և ի ժամանակս, և յաւուրս, և ի տարիս; “And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to give

light upon the earth and to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years” (emphasis mine). 19 NBHL, 1:901. As was the case in the Armenian tradition, according to Lampe, φωστῆρ besides ‘luminary’ was also used metaphorically as a reference to “patriarchs” (APGL p. 1507). 20 ի ներել երկայնմտութեանդ քո առաքեցեր զսուրբ զմարգարէսն յերկիր եւ զսիրելիս քո, որ եղեն լուսաւորք յերկրի, ի խաւարչտական միջոյ ազգացն հեթանոսաց; “In your long-suffering indulgence you sent to earth the holy prophets,

your beloved ones, who became luminaries on earth in the midst of the benighted heathen races.” 21 ձերոց առաքելոցս. See, also, Calzolari 2011b, p. 188.


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explains this approach by stressing that “[n]ot only by men, but also by holy women the gospel of life was preached throughout the whole world.”22 These unambiguous characterisations of the Hṙip‘simian virgins underscore the attitude of Agat‘angełos and, most probably, of the leading representatives of the Armenian Church towards the role that they envisaged for Armenian women, namely the role of educators and transmitters of religious beliefs and values. If we compare the introduction of the virgins in the Prologue with how St Gregory and King Trdat are presented,23 it becomes apparent that for Agat‘angełos the martyrdom of Hṙip‘simē and her companions is as momentous for the conversion as the subsequent activities of the king and Armenia’s first patriarch. Yet, we should not ignore the fact that in this passage the description of St Gregory’s acts is more detailed than that of the Hṙip‘simian virgins and King Trdat, which shows the priority given by Agat‘angełos to the figure of St Gregory, whose authoritative voice will guide and instruct the audience in many parts of the narrative.24 The absence of references to female characters is conspicuous in the Life, which might be ascribed to the nature of events recounted in this part. In this section Agat‘angełos focuses only on the public sphere – the world of wars, conflicts, betrayal, miraculous escapes, expressions of loyalty and so on; it is a men’s world which seems to be inaccessible to women. There is, nonetheless, 22 Aa §684. 23 Ibid., §13: կամ որպէս գթացեալ Աստուծոյ` այց արար Հայոց աշխարհիս, ի ձեռն առն միոջ եցոյց զսքանչելիս մեծամեծս, որ համբերութեամբ բազում եւ ազգի ազգի փորձութեանց եւ կապանաւոր վշտաց մենակռիւ մենամարտիկ երկպատական բռնութեան յԱրտաշատ քաղաքի վասն Քրիստոսի յաղթութեամբ տարեալ, որոյ զվկայ անուն ժառանգեալ, որ ի մահ հասեալ մտեալ, եւ կամօք Աստուծոյ այսրէն դարձեալ` ի վերակացութիւն դառնայր յերկիրս Հայոց: Սա մտեալ ի դրունս մահու` դարձեալ անտի կամօքն Աստուծոյ, վարդապետութեանն Քրիստոսի պատգամաւոր գտեալ, յետ Աստուծոյ սքանչելագործ պատուհասին մարդասիրութեան: Իսկ բարեացապարտն Տրդատ յանկարծակամ` կենացն ասպնջանական ցանկալի ամենեցուն լինէր, որ աշխարհածնունդ հայրենեացն որդի գտանէր շնորհօքն Աստուծոյ, եւ յաւիտենական կենացն մերձաւոր լինէր; “How God had mercy and visited this land


of the Armenians, and showed great miracles through one man, who endured many and various torments and afflictions in prison, as in his solitary struggle he triumphed for Christ over a double tyranny in the city of Artašat. He acquired the title of martyr; he came as far as death yet by God’s will returned from there and was raised up again to the oversight of this land of Armenia. He entered the gates of death, but returned by the will of God; he became the messenger of Christ’s teaching after God’s miraculous and merciful punishment. Then how the meritorious Trdat accepted unhoped for salvation and became dear to all, becoming by the grace of God the son of his reborn native land and heir to eternal life.” Cf. Calzolari 2011b, p. 180.

Women in Agat ‘ angełos ’ History of the Armenians


one passage that is crucial for our understanding of the representation of Hṙip‘simē and her companions. In §48 King Trdat, accompanied by his men including St Gregory, goes to the village of Erēz in the province of Ekełeac‘ (Acilisene) to sacrifice to the goddess Anahit, but St Gregory refuses to participate in it.25 Trdat attempts to convince the holy man and in his address to him first describes the goddess as “the great lady Anahit,” who “is the glory of our nation and our saviour [kec‘uc‘ič‘],” “the mother of all virtues, benefactor of all human nature, and the offspring of the great and noble Aramazd”;26 then as “the great Anahit, through whom our land of Armenia lives and is provided with prosperity.”27 The use of the characterisation kec‘uc‘ič‘ (saviour) is especially notable here, for Agat‘angełos applies it twice to portray Jesus Christ later in the narrative.28 This representation of Anahit by Trdat is virtually identical to the aforementioned description of the goddess by King Sanatruk in MartThad, leaving no doubt that Anahit in the minds of non-Christian Armenians was the life-giving protectress and saviour of the Armenian nation, who was revered for her virtues and benevolence. With these qualities she is elevated to the same rank as the almighty Aramazd and valiant Vahagn. Agat‘angełos’ task is to challenge these beliefs, for which he deploys the acts of St Gregory and the martyrdom of the Hṙip‘simian virgins to prove the superiority of the Christian god. Writing approximately a century and a half after the events described and within a decade or so after the Battle of Avarayr, and observing the lingering Iranian mentality among members of the naxarar society, Agat‘angełos would understand only too well that changing people’s conceptual framework was a painful and complicated process which could not be achieved by entirely ignoring the old moral values and prejudices. Thus, the ideological void that would emerge as a result of the demystification of pagan idols was to be filled by Christian imagery.29 The femininity of Anahit called for the appropriation 25 Aa §§49–50, 52. 26 Ibid., §53: մեծի Անահտայ տիկնոջս, որ է փառք ազգիս մերոյ եւ կեցուցիչ, … որ 27 28 29

է մայր ամենայն զգաստութեանց, բարերար ամենայն մարդկան բնութեան, եւ ծնունդ է մեծին արին Արամազդայ. Ibid., §68: զմեծն Անահիտ, որով կեայ եւ զկենդանութիւն կրէ երկիրս Հայոց.

Ibid., §§167 and 834. For example, in §59 St Gregory says: Այլ զոր դուդ կոչես մեծ Անահիտ տիկին՝ լեալ իցեն արդեօք մարդիկ ոք յայնժամ երբեմն ժամանակի։ Քանզի դիցապաշտ կախարդութեամբ զմարդիկն որ յայն ժամն էին ցնորիւք կերպս ի կերպս լինելով դիւացն՝ հաւանեցուցին մեհեանս շինել եւ պատկերս կանգնել եւ երկիր պագանել։ Որ ոչ իսկ են ո՛չ չար եւ ոչ բարի ումեք ինչ կարեն առնել ո՛չ պատուել կարեն զպաշտաւնեայս իւրեանց եւ ոչ անարգել զթշնամանադիրս իւրեանց զոր դուքն ցնորեալ պաշտէք յափշութիւն մտաց ձերոց։ Եւ փոխանակ


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of a female character, and Agat‘angełos allocates this role to Hṙip‘simē and her companions, who replace the “saviour” (kec‘uc‘ič‘) Anahit, and themselves become a source of new life and intercessors between God and the Armenians.30 Demystified Anahit is substituted by virtuous women who walked and shed their blood on the Armenian soil.31 Interestingly, a similar strategy of replacement is used, albeit less obviously, in the Epic Histories, when the goddess Anahit’s features are transferred onto St Thecla.32 In St Gregory’s prayer, uttered in between the tortures inflicted upon him by Trdat, Agat‘angełos also introduces a very common patristic theme, namely the typological contrast between Eve and the Virgin Mary. Eve is seen as the source of death and suffering of mankind, whereas Mary is presented as the spring of life and blessing.33 Although Thomson directs our attention to 1 Cor. 15.21, Աստուծոյ յորոյ ի բարիսդ վայելէք՝ պաշտէք զփայտեղէնսդ եւ զքարեղէնսդ եւ զոսկեղէնսդ եւ զարծաթեղէնսդ զոր Աստուծոյ կարգեալ է ի սպաս եւ ի պէտս եւ ի փառաւորութիւն մարդկան ; “Now as for the one whom you call the great lady

Anahit, there may well have been some such person at some time. For the demons, by impious magic and by assuming various deceiving forms, persuaded the men who lived at that time to build temples and set up images and worship them. But they do not really exist; they can do neither harm nor good to anyone; they can neither honour their worshippers nor dishonour those who insult them. You are deranged when you worship them in the folly of your minds. Instead of God, whose blessings you enjoy, you are worshipping objects of wood and stone and gold and silver, which God has established for the service and needs and glory of mankind.” 30 Aa §572: Արդ՝ թէպէտ յերեկ սպանէք դուք զնոսա [զՀռիփսիմէ եւ զընկերսն իւր], այլ Աստուծոյն նոքա եւ այժմ կենդանի են, եւ յաւիտեան կենդանի են լինելոց: Արդ՝ նոցին բարեխօսութեամբ հաճեցայք դուք ընդ Աստուծոյ, ըստ խրատու սոցին առաքելակցին ձերոց առաքելոցս՝ մեծին Պաւղոսի, որ ասէն, թէ « Մեօք հաճեցարուք ընդ Աստուծոյ ի ձեռն մահու Որդւոյ նորա ». զի Որդին Աստուծոյ մեռաւ եւ եկեաց, սոյնպէս եւ վկայքն նորա սիրելիք կենդանի են եւ ձեզ բարեխօս; “Although yesterday you killed them [Hṙip‘simē and her companions],

yet they are God’s and now are living and will live for ever. By their intercession you will be reconciled with God according to the instruction of the companion apostle to these apostles of yours, the great Paul, who said: ‘Through us be reconciled with God by the death of his Son.’ For the Son of God died and lived, and likewise his beloved martyrs are alive and intercede for you.” 31 Calzolari 2017, p. 68. 32 See Calzolari 1997, pp. 39–49. 33 Aa §79: Զի զոր օրինակ ի ձեռն կուսին առաջնոյ Եւայի մահ եմուտ յաշխարհ` սոյն օրինակ եւ ի ձեռն այսր կուսի կեանք մտցեն յաշխարհ: Զի զոր օրինակ ի ձեռն ծնընդեան Եւայի` Կահելի անէծք եւ քրտունք եւ աշխատութիւնք եւ երերմունք եւ տատանմունք մտին յաշխարհ՝ սոյն օրինակ եւ ծնանելով Որդւոյ քոյ ի կուսէն հանգիստք եւ կեանք եւ օրհնութիւնք մտցեն յաշխարհ; “For as

through the first virgin, Eve, death entered the world, so through this virgin life will enter the world. As through Eve’s giving birth, Cain’s curse and sweat and toil and agitation and

Women in Agat ‘ angełos ’ History of the Armenians


which contains a similar juxtaposition of Adam and Christ,34 it is more probable that Agat‘angełos paraphrases John Chrysostom’s comment on Psalm 44: “A virgin expelled us from paradise; through a virgin we found eternal life”.35 It is not unlikely either that Agat‘angełos also draws on the contemporary Syriac literary tradition which has preserved several poetic works that elaborate on the same theme. According to the anonymous Hymn on Mary no. 1, verse 10, for instance, Mary has provided a sweet Fruit for humanity: and in place of that bitter fruit which Eve had plucked from the tree, through Mary’s Fruit the entire creation has received sweet delight.36 A similar juxtaposition is found in St Ephrem’s commentary on Diatessaron. There are several passages that discuss Eve’s being deceived by the serpent thus causing enormous damage to the human race, but it was eventually repaired in accordance with the divine plan after the Virgin gave birth to the Saviour.37 In patristic literature the sin committed by Eve is often overemphasised and presented as the main reason why women ought to be considered inferior to men and submit to their authority,38 while the Virgin Mary is perceived as a troubles entered the world; so through the birth of your Son from the virgin, rest and life and blessings will enter the world.” 34 1 Cor. 15.21–22: “For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.” 35 John Chrysostom 1862c, PG 54, 193: Παρθένος ἡμᾶς ἐξέβαλε παραδείσου, διὰ παρθένου ζωὴν εὕρομεν αἰωνίαν. 36 Brock 1994, p. 34. We find the same approach in Hymn on Mary no. 2, verse 8 “in Eve death arouse, but Life shone out through Mary” (ibid., p. 36). 37 Leloir 1966, pp. 42, 66–67, 191, and 366–367. See also a similar juxtaposition found in the Armenian Commentary on Genesis attributed to St Ephrem (p. 17 [19]), which, nevertheless, is a later work: Զի որչափ շփոթեաց Եւայ … զկեանս մարդկութեան, սոյնպէս ուղղեաց եւ կանգնեաց զկեանս աշխարհի Մարիամ կոյս …; “For the degree that Eve … has brought disorder into the lives of humanity, similarly the Virgin Mary … has straightened out and reestablished the living things of the world”. 38 For details with examples from the works of Greek and Latin Church Fathers, see Clark 1994, pp. 168–169. A similar attitude can be found in Aphrahat’s Demonstration VI:3: “For it was through Eve that he [Satan] came against Adam, and in his innocence Adam was enticed by him.” The Syriac Father then continues with examples from the Old Testament which support his argument and demonstrate how powerful and righteous men were destroyed through women’s agency. Moreover, in Demonstration XVIII:8 he clearly stresses the superiority of Adam over Eve.


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personification of purity and virtue.39 There is, however, no elaboration on this opposition in the passage,40 and it should be understood within the context of St Gregory’s prayer as a common reference to biblical motifs. Eve is alluded to again in §141, where in an extended metaphor she is explicitly compared with the Hṙip‘simian virgins.41 Here the image of Eve succumbing to the snake is reminiscent of the remark made by St Ephrem,42 albeit with one difference: the first woman’s failure to follow God’s commandment is juxtaposed not to the Virgin Mary’s life-giving agency but to the strong faith of the Hṙip‘simian virgins that enables them to resist the forces of evil and not to fall into their trap. As Calzolari mentions, « [l]’importance de la femme vierge [i.e. of Hṙip‘simē] est ici de transcender la faiblesse de la première femme. »43 Before introducing the main female protagonists of his narrative, Agat‘angełos also mentions a widow who provides St Gregory with food when he is thrown into the xor virap (deep pit) as a punishment for refusing to worship Anahit.44 It appears as another biblical motif45 used by the author with no intention to stress the woman’s identity, for the widow does not appear in 39 See, for example, Proclus 1864, PG 65, 715–758, and Irenaeus 1857, PG 7, 958–960. 40 See above, n. 33 (Aa §79). 41 Ibid., §141: Իսկ իբրեւ տեսին առաքինիքն զգաղտաձիգ նետս թշնամւոյն, որ ի ծածուկն սովոր էր ձգել ի սուրբսն քրիստոսասէրսն, աման չարի գտեալ զթագաւորն. որպէս ի դրախտի անդ զօձն անդրուվար արարեալ, առ ի պատուիրանն մոռանալոյ, մտեալ յանզգամ յունկն կնոջն առաջնոյ; “But when

the virtuous women saw the hidden arrows of the enemy, who is accustomed to shoot secretly at the saints who love Christ, they found that the Emperor (had become) a vessel of evil. Just as in the garden he had used the snake as a vehicle for causing the forgetting of the commandment, entering into the senseless ear of the first woman …”. 42 See Ephrem 1953, XX: 32, p. 305: ընդ ունկնն Եւայի եմուտ մահ, ընդ ունկն Մարիամու մտին կեանք; Leloir 1966, pp. 366–367: « La mort était entrée par l’oreille d’Ève ; c’est pourquoi la vie entra par l’oreille de Marie ». For St Ephrem’s focus on the ear as the human’s weak spot through which the serpent accomplished its deceit, see also below n. 135. As pointed out by Robert Murray (1971, p. 374), “[t]he reference to ears is a peculiarity of Syriac tradition”, according to which not only was Eve deceived by listening to the serpent, but also “Mary conceived by the Word entering her by the ear”. See also, Brock 1994, p. 6. 43 Calzolari 2011b, p. 187. 44 Aa §124: Եւ զայն ամս երեքտասան, որ եղեւ Գրիգորիոս ի բերդին բանդին եւ ի խոր վիրապին, կին ոմն այրի, որ էր ի բերդին յայնմիկ, հրաման առեալ յարհաւրաց՝ զի աւուրն նկանակ մի արարեալ պատրաստական ընկենուլ ի ներքս ի խոր վիրապն. եւ այնու կերակրեալ լինէր նա ի հրամանէն Աստուծոյ զայն ամս որ եղեւ նա անդ; “During those thirteen years that Gregory was in the dun-


geon of the fortress, in the deep pit, a certain widow who lived in that fortress received a command in a dream to prepare a loaf a day and to throw it into the deep pit. Thereby he was nourished by God’s command for the years he was there …”. As noted by Thomson (2010, p. 206), this episode is “reminiscent of Elijah and the widow” (1 Kings 17.8–24).

Women in Agat ‘ angełos ’ History of the Armenians


the ensuing narrative. This is additionally supported by the fact that in Vg she is referred to even more vaguely: “a woman, one of the inhabitants of the city who lived a pious life.”46 The noteworthy fact is that Agat‘angełos allocates the task of saving St Gregory to a woman who carries out God’s command and provides the saint with a loaf of bread throughout the years of his imprisonment there. It is obvious that without this woman he would not survive and would not be able to accomplish his mission of evangelisation, but Agat‘angełos does not focus on her figure, perhaps because her agency is only required in this episode of the narrative. 4

The Representation of Hṙip‘simē and Her Companions

The representation of Hṙip‘simē and her companions contains virtually all the elements of la passion épique,47 albeit with some compelling nuances. The descriptions of their characters as well as of their interaction with other people abound with religious imagery, symbols, and hagiographic topoi, but on some occasions Agat‘angełos’ ingenious approach presents events in a different light, revealing additional substrata of his narrative. The ensuing analysis explores Agat‘angełos’ approach to the representation of the Hṙip‘simian virgins and attempts to elucidate what role models the author strives to create, to what extent these role models are gender-related, and what implications his account of the martyrdom of the virgins might have for his audience within the given historical context. The narrative of the acts of Hṙip‘simē and her companions commences in §137 with the introduction of a common topos of the epic passion: the emperor Diocletian is looking for a wife who will “please his eye”.48 The emperor’s men arrive in Rome at a convent of nuns led by Gayianē, and enter it by force. They find Gayianē’s young protégée Hṙip‘simē, “who was descended from pious and royal lineage”,49 and being “amazed and charmed at her wonderful appear-

46 47 48 49

Ibid. On la passion épique, see the Introduction. Aa §137: ակնահաճոյ կամաց թագաւորին. Ibid., §138: ի դստերաց ուրումն յաստուածապաշտ եւ ի թագակալ տոհմէ. Another reference to her royal background is found in §167: Յիշեա, որդեակ իմ [Հռիփսիմէ], զի թողեր լքեր զմեծապատիւ շքեղաշուք ոսկիակուռ զաթոռն քո հայրենի, զծիրանեաց թագաւորութեանն …; “Remember, my child [Hṙip‘simē], that you have

left and abandoned the honour and the splendour of the golden throne of your fathers and the royal purple.”


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ance”, they make a painting and send it to Diocletian.50 When it is shown to the emperor, he goes “mad with licentious desire” and immediately gives the order to make wedding arrangements.51 The details of the quest for a bride as well as the subsequent description of Trdat falling in love with Hṙip‘simē are deployed by the author to reveal the perspective of impious pagan rulers who give primacy to a woman’s physical attractiveness over her spiritual qualities. This is additionally stressed in Diocletian’s edict to Trdat, in which the emperor once again describes Hṙip‘simē as “a young and beautiful girl”52 and suggests that Trdat keep her for himself should her beauty delight him.53 In the subsequent narrative we are informed that the Armenian king “had not yet seen her, but planned to take her to wife because of what they had told him about her wonderful beauty”.54 In order to emphasise yet again the fixation of pagan men with female physical beauty, Agat‘angełos describes how the consecrated virgins find themselves

50 Ibid., §139: Եւ իբրեւ եկին հասին՝ բռնութեամբ մտեալ ի սուրբ կայեանս առաքինեացն, տեսեալ զպարկեշտագեղն Հռիփսիմէ, զարմացեալ սխրացեալ ընդ սքանչելատեսիկն տեսիլ՝ ի նկարապաճոյճ ի տախտակսն յօրինէին, եւ առ թագաւորն հասուցանէին; “When they arrived, they entered by force into the holy


dwelling of these virtuous women; and seeing the modest beauty of Rhipsime, they were amazed and charmed at her wonderful appearance. They painted her likeness on their tablets and brought it to the emperor.” Ibid., §140: Եւ իբրեւ ետես թագաւորն զգեղապանձ վայելչութիւն պատկերակերպ նկարագրին Հռիփսիմեայ, մոլեգնական ցանկութեամբ տռփողաց զեղխեալ, զի անկարգ ցանկութիւն յիմարութեանն մոլութեան ստիպէր, ժամ տուեալ ուրախութեան հարսանեաց՝ ճեպով տագնապաւ փութայր զուրախութիւնս հարսանեացն կատարել; “Now when the emperor saw the graceful beauty of

52 53 54

Rhipsime’s portrait, he went mad with licentious desire. The unbridled passion of his raving folly urged him to set a time for the marriage, and he was anxious rapidly to celebrate the joyful wedding.” Ibid., §155: օրիորդ մի կոյս եւ գեղեցիկ. Ibid., §156: թէ հաճոյ թուեսցի քեզ տեսիլ գեղոյ նորա. Ibid., §166: քանզի չեւ էր տեսեալ զնա՝ խորհեցաւ կին առնել զնա, վասն այնորիկ որ պատմեցինն զնմանէ վասն վայելչութեան գեղոյ նորա. It should be noted that the text also contains a mention of Trdat being married to Ašxēn (§765), and his wish to marry Hṙip‘simē is either an indication that polygyny was still practised in Armenia (on polygyny, see Chapter 6), or another indication of the heterogeneity of Agat‘angełos’ text. In §173 there is another reference to the idea of Hṙip‘simē marrying Trdat, with an additional remark that she will be hailed as queen by the nobility: նախարարքն եւ մեծամեծք աւագանւոյն, որ եկեալ էին շքադիրք՝ պատիւ առնել նմա եւ երթալ ընդ նմա յարքունիս. զի տարցին զնա կնութեան թագաւորին Տրդատայ եւ Հայոց տիկնութեան; “princes and nobles who had come to pay homage and hon-

our her and escort her to court, in order to marry her to king Trdat and make her queen of Armenia.”

Women in Agat ‘ angełos ’ History of the Armenians


under the scrutiny of the male gaze,55 when rumours of their beauty attract men of all social groups to come and stare at them. To this impudent heathen, and invariably male viewpoint Agat‘angełos opposes his authorial perspective, which unequivocally stresses the spiritual superior qualities of Hṙip‘simē and her companions, albeit preserving a reference to their attractive physical appearance. He describes them as “sober, modest, and pure women of the Christian faith”56 possessing “modest beauty”,57 and, in particular Hṙip‘simē, as becoming renowned for her “chastity and wonderful beauty”.58 Agat‘angełos’ initial portrayal of Hṙip‘simē contains many elements of intertextuality. She is presented as a young, beautiful girl with royal blood in her veins, which reminds one of Sanduxt, whose representation, as noted earlier, was largely influenced by St Thecla’s character in the Acts of Paul and Thecla. As shown by Calzolari, many elements of Hṙip‘simē’s representation bear marks of the same influence.59 Moreover, as with Sanduxt, the portrayal of Hṙip‘simē seems to contain implicit allusions to the goddess Anahit, whose beautiful looks are extolled as much as her spiritual pulchritude in the Avestan hymn, Yašt 5, dedicated to her.60 In addition, as the story unfolds, in Hṙip‘simē’s character we may also notice similarities with depictions of praiseworthy heroines from Apocryphal or Deuterocanonical literature, who are extolled for their beauty and piety.61 In the tradition of la passion épique the conflict between the nuns and the emperor is presented as a struggle between the Christianity of “the virtuous women” and the enemy, whose “vessel of evil” the emperor has become:62

55 Aa §164: Իսկ երանելիքն … զերեսս իւրեանց պատեալ՝ անկեալ դնէին յերկիր, յամօթոյ լկտեացն տեսողաց, որ ժողովեալն էին ի տեսանել; “But the blessed ones … covering their faces … fell to the ground in shame at the impudent sightseers who had gathered to stare.” 56 Ibid., §138: զգաստացեալս, պարկեշտականս, սրբամատոյց կանայս քրիստոսական հաւատոց. 57 Ibid., §139: զպարկեշտագեղն. 58 Ibid., §162: համբաւն հռչակեալ պարկեշտութեան զանազան գեղեցկութեանն Հռիփսիմեայ ի մէջ բազմամբոխ հրապարակացն լինէր; “the report of the chastity and wonderful beauty of Rhipsime became known to the public.” 59 Calzolari 2017, pp. 53–68. 60 Skjærvø 2011, pp. 59–60: “She [Anahit] said no to the evil gods and took Ahura Mazdā as her guide … Beautiful, indeed, were her arms, white and thicker than the thighs of a horse. Two beautiful armlets were clasped around her delicate arms.” See also Chapter 2. 61 See Amy-Jill Levine’s introduction and commentary to the Book of Susanna in NRSV, p. 1548. 62 Aa §141 (see above, n. 41).


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Diocletian is the personification of evil,63 described as “lawless”,64 “impure” and “impious”.65 Because of his impurity,66 the almighty emperor, who worships “images of futile corpses, vain gods of gold and silver, wood, stone and bronze”,67 is doomed to concede defeat to the virgins, who have “illumined their souls in angelic form by the virtue of their conduct”.68 Not only is this a transgression of gender roles, when “fragile” women disobey a “strong” male subject,69 but it is also a transgression of the social order, when an autocrat and his country’s state religion are humbled by an “erring sect”.70 The narrative continues with a brief mention of the nuns’ journey from Rome to Armenia. The author does not appear to be interested in the thousands of kilometres that lie between the two locations and simply omits all the details of their long and arduous trip.71 Under the leadership of Gayianē and accompanied by the divine presence, to whom they incessantly address their prayers, the nuns arrive in Armenia in Vałaršapat, the Armenian royal family’s city of residence,72 and take shelter in the vat-stores73 just outside the city, where their hiding place is soon discovered. 63 Cf. Delehaye 1921, p. 240. 64 Aa §141: անօրէն. 65 Ibid., §143: պիղծ եւ անօրէն. It is noteworthy that King Trdat, who persecutes Hṙip‘simē and her companions and eventually brings their death, does not receive such criticism. For him the anti-Zoroastrian metamorphosis is reserved, which is even more effective, as it strikes at the heart of the image of the King-Hero (see Garsoïan 1982, pp. 153–164). 66 As Calzolari (2011b, pp. 183–184) mentions, « l’association entre paganisme et impureté constitue un lieu commun de la littérature chrétienne; il convient néanmoins de remarquer que dans l’œuvre d’Agathange, dont le thème central est l’affirmation du christianisme sur le paganisme en Arménie au IVe siècle, cette association assume une valeur apologétique et contribue à dénigrer l’ancienne religion pour montrer la supériorité de la nouvelle … l’opposition entre pureté (chrétienne) et impureté (païenne) se trouve renforcée par l’idée que la défense extrême de la pureté, jusqu’à la mort, de la part des vierges est une défense de la foi chrétienne elle-même ». 67 Aa §142: պագանել երկիր ուրուականաց մեռելոտւոց, ոսկեղէն եւ արծաթեղէն, փայտեղէն եւ քարեղէն պղնձագործ պատկերաց դիցն սնոտեաց. 68 Ibid., §149: զանձինս իւրեանց հրեշտակական զուարթական կարգօք լուսաւորեալ վարուցն քաջութեամբք. 69 For a discussion of gender stereotypes reflected in hagiographic texts, see Marjanen 2009, pp. 232–237. 70 Aa §153: Diocletian’s characterisation of the Christians is ի մոլար աղանդէս քրիստոնէից. 71 Jean-Michel Thierry and Bernard Outtier (Thierry and Outtier 1990, pp. 695–733) have translated into French and have provided an interesting analysis of a text that elaborates on this trip, but as they note, it is obviously a ninth- to tenth-century text. There is a brief reference to their trip in Vg (Thomson 2010, p. 223), which, however, does not contain any useful information about the female characters of the work. 72 Aa §§143–149. 73 On the symbolic meaning of the ‘vat-stores’, see Chapter 4.

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At this stage, Agat‘angełos comments that “the truth and virtue of the martyrs”74 should be revealed to the world. This association of the virgins with ‘truth’ is not accidental, for it must have had profound implications for his audience, both Christian and Zoroastrian. In patristic literature ἀληθεία was, amongst other things, related to various manifestations of divine will, and it could even refer to a “divine person”.75 Similarly, in ancient Indo-Iranian tradition, as well as later in Zoroastrianism, Mitra/Mithra (Arm. Mihr) – a powerful deity in the pre-Christian religion of Armenia – was considered to be the protector of an important moral principle ṙta/aša (OP. arta), which represented the “cosmic order,” “moral order or ‘truth’,” though, as Boyce mentions, it “cannot be precisely rendered by any single word in another tongue”.76 Russell connects this term to Armenian ardarut‘iwn (justice, righteousness),77 and by examples demonstrates its significance as a concept for the Armenian people.78 This shows that Agat‘angełos, once again, wishes to elevate the virgins to an outstanding position in the eyes and minds of his audience. As soon as Trdat’s plans to marry her are revealed, Hṙip‘simē utters a fervent prayer which continues even when she is taken to the royal palace by force and shut in a chamber. She beseeches God to deliver her from this ordeal and let her leave the world in purity.79 Here, too, Agat‘angełos follows the literary conventions of the genre. What is noteworthy about it is that he mentions several female characters from the Old Testament – Sarah (Arm. Saṙa), Rebecca (Arm. Erep‘ika), Susanna (Arm. Šušan),80 Jael (Arm. Yayel) and Deborah 74 Aa §159: Այլ ոչ իսկ էր պարտ թագչել ճշմարտութեանն եւ վկայիցն առաքինութեան, եւ ոչ լուսոյ ճրագի ընդ գրուանաւ ծածկել, եւ ոչ ի ներքոյ ստուերաց կաթեդրացն աներեւոյթ լինել. այլ ի վերայ աշտանակացն ոսկւոց զարդարելոց, եւ ոսկւովք ճրագարանօք զիւղն պարարտութեան անուշութեան, զարդարութեան հաւատոցն՝ վառեալ զլոյսն համապայծառ; “It was not right for

75 76 77 78 79 80

the truth and virtue of the martyrs to remain hidden, nor for the light of [their] lamp to be hidden under a bushel or remain invisible under the shadow of a chair; but on the candlesticks ornamented with gold and with golden torches one should kindle the glorious light, the oil of sweet plenty of the righteous faith.” APGL, pp. 70–72. HZ I, p. 27. Russell 1987, p. 660. For instance, Russell highlights the fact that there are “a number of theophoric names with arta- in Armenian” which “suggests that Armenians were acquainted with Iranian Aša” (ibid., p. 659). Aa §§169–172 and 178–179. The story of her salvation with the help of Daniel (Dan. 13:1–64) was obviously well-known in Armenia through the translation of the Septuagint or Theodotion, and Šušan was a popular name amongst Armenians, although it might have been due to sparapet Vardan Mamikonean’s daughter Šušanik, the story of whose martyrdom was preserved in Georgian and Armenian sources (see, e.g., Muradyan 1996, p. 18).


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(Arm. Debovra),81 a strategy, as Elizabeth Clark has highlighted, used by the Church Fathers, too.82 It seems to be the author’s deliberate choice to name these particular women from amongst so many other biblical female figures. For the Christian audience these names would evoke associations with the qualities they symbolise and the roles they play in the biblical stories. Thus, reference to Sarah alludes to her beauty which attracts the Pharaoh of Egypt83 and Abimelech, King of Gerar,84 but she is eventually saved by God’s will “from the stain of shameful outrage and death”;85 Agat‘angełos’ mention of Rebecca refers to the same context in which Sarah appears: her beauty could have become an incentive for the Philistines to kill her husband Isaac;86 Susanna represents “a very beautiful woman and one who feared the Lord”;87 Jael is a strong woman who destroys a tyrant;88 Deborah is the only female judge of the Old Testament, a prophetess, whose prowess gains the Israelites victory over the Canaanites.89 The features that these women have in common are their beauty, chastity, fear of God, determination, and strong will. In addition, they are all representatives of the higher social stratum, with whom noble women in the audience could easily identify. In this section of the narrative Agat‘angełos introduces a common metaphor frequently used in patristic literature. In their prayer to the Lord the virgins announce that they “have dedicated their virginity” to Christ,90 a figure 81 In Greek Vo the name of Esther also appears, whereas Arabic Va has Rebecca in the passage where the Armenian has Deborah (Thomson 2010, p. 246). 82 Clark 1994, p. 172. See, for instance, Aphrahat, Demonstration XIV:11, where Deborah, Jael, and Rebecca are mentioned; similarly, John Chrysostom refers to Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Deborah, and Anna (1862e, PG 62, 99). Moreover, in Syriac homiletic and hymnographic literature (ca fourth-seventh centuries) biblical women, including the Virgin Mary, were granted a voice they often lacked in the Bible: the words attributed to them were usually sung by a women’s choir during the liturgy (Harvey 2001, pp. 108–109; see also Harvey 2005) and were “employed to demonstrate right teaching, intelligent reflection, autonomy, agency, and free will” (Harvey 2001, p. 124). 83 Gen. 12:10–20. 84 Gen. 20. 85 Aa §170: յամօթոյ նախատանաց պղծութենէ մահու ապրեցուցեր զաղախին քո զՍառա. In addition, in the New Testament Sarah is presented as an example of a faithful wife (1 Pt. 3:6), but Agat‘angełos does not refer to it. 86 Gen. 26:6–11. 87 Sus. 1:2; Dan. 13:2: գեղեցիկ յոյժ՝ երկիւղած ի Տեառնէ. 88 Judg. 4:17–22. 89 Judg. 4:1–24. 90 Aa §174: նմա [Քրիստոսին] նուիրեցաք զկուսութիւնս մեր, զի նմա աւանդեցաք զսրբութիւնս մեր, զի նմա մնամք եւ սիրոյ նորա ցանկացեալ սպասեմք, մինչեւ կացցուք առաջի փառաց գովութեան նորա առանց ամօթոյ եւ պատկառանաց;

“to him [Christ] we have dedicated our virginity, to him we have commended our purity,

Women in Agat ‘ angełos ’ History of the Armenians


of speech in which Christ is perceived as the “Celibate Bridegroom” and the consecrated virgins as the “Brides of Christ”.91 This imagery was part of the patristic discourse that, in Averil Cameron’s characterisation, “worked by metaphor and paradox, and that boldly exploited the very imagery it was ostensibly denying”.92 The metaphor’s popularity did not wane over the time owing to “its emotional or psychological appeal,” as well as to its effectiveness in providing “theological affirmations” and “pastoral assistance”.93 It will feature again in St Gregory’s Teaching later in the text with an elaboration on its theological implications.94 The episode that follows is one of the most revealing ones in the History: it deviates from the conventions of the genre of the epic passion even though some of its elements are still present. Agat‘angełos describes a scene which features a powerful pagan ruler renowned for his physical strength and brave deeds,95 who is overpowered by a fragile Christian virgin in a full-contact physical confrontation. When the king entered, he seized her in order to work his lustful desires. But she, strengthened by the holy Spirit, struggled like a beast and fought like a man. They fought from the third hour until the tenth, and she vanquished the king who was renowned for his incredible strength. […] So he, who was so famous in every respect, now was vanquished and worsted by a single girl through the will and power of Christ.96 This is an allegorical representation of the fight between Hṙip‘simē’s Christianity and the paganism of Trdat, which, as pointed out by Calzolari, has obvious parallels with the account of the fight of Thecla and Alexander.97 Trdat is

91 92 93 94 95 96


for him we wait, and his love we await with longing until we stand before his praiseworthy glory without shame or timidity.” For a detailed discussion of this nuptial imagery in patristic literature, see Clark 2008 and Cameron 1991, pp. 155–188. Ibid., p. 175. Clark 2008, p. 24. See Aa §§439–441. This is repeated several times by Agat‘angełos: see §§42–45, 123, and 202. Aa §181: Արդ՝ մտեալ թագաւորն՝ բուռն հարկանէր զնմանէն, կատարել զկամս ցանկութեանն: Իսկ նա զօրացեալ լինէր ի Հոգւոյն սրբոյ. գազանաբար ոգորեալ, առնաբար մարտնչէր. իբրեւ յերեք ժամուց սկսեալ մարտնչել մինչեւ ի տասն ժամն՝ պարտեալ լինէր զթագաւորն իսկ զայն, որ անհնարին համարեալ ուժով…. եւ որ այնպէս հռչակեալ էր ամենայնիւ՝ արդ յաղջկանէ միոջէ պարտեալ վատթարանայր կամօք եւ զօրութեամբն Քրիստոսի.

Calzolari 2017, pp. 56–59.


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symbolically castrated, stripped off his masculinity, deprived of indispensable attributes of a pagan monarch – the royal diadem, great valour, and divinely bestowed strength.98 His ignominious defeat humbles and fills him with deep shame: “she struck him, beat him off, and overcame him; she wore the king out, weakened him and felled him. She stripped the king naked of his clothes; she tore his robes and threw away his royal diadem, leaving him covered with shame.”99 Hṙip‘simē’s victory should be perceived as a transgression of gender norms, which, however, is achieved through a divine (masculine) intervention and empowerment as repeatedly stressed by Agat‘angełos.100 Her agency becomes a tool for the author to demonstrate that everything associated with paganism is doomed to be destroyed by the only true God, who currently represents the new awrēnk‘. While earlier in the account Agat‘angełos focuses on the spiritual supremacy of Christian believers, this episode foregrounds the bodily strength that springs from faith. The descriptive adjectives are substituted by verbs of action and the use of asyndeton in §191 creates a powerful image of violent confrontation. The royal chamber transforms into a ring101 for Hṙip‘simē, where she fights “like a man” to preserve her purity. This simile is based on the assumption that strength is a male prerogative, but a woman empowered by the Holy Spirit can be even stronger.102 Thus, the unity of spiritual and physical power, which characterises a true Christian, is extolled in this episode. In the fight against anawrēn religion, gender distinctions are blurred and a new kind of identity – a Christian identity acquired through baptism – comes forward.103 Interestingly, this representation is again on a par with the previously discussed Zoroastrian understanding of gender unity in the fight against the evil spirits. 98 For the discussion of these qualities in the Iranian cultural milieu, see Garsoïan 1982, pp. 156–159, as well as below Chapter 7. 99 Aa §191: հարեալ վանեալ պարտեալ, վաստակաբեկ առնելով զթագաւորն՝ մեղկեալ ընկենոյր: Մերկ կողոպուտ եւս ի հանդերձից զթագաւորն կացուցանէր, եւ զպատմուճանն պատառեալ եւ զնշան թագին ցրուեալ կողոպտեալ՝ ամօթալից թողոյր. See also §202.

100 Ibid., §§181, 191, and 202. 101 It is a common topos in martyrdom literature to present female martyrs as athletes, gladiators, or warriors fighting in the arena. See, e.g., Marjanen 2009, pp. 238–242, and Giulea 2006, p. 163. 102 For the “masculinisation” of virtuous Christian women as a common literary topos, see Marjanen 2009. 103 Cf. Gal. 3:28: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus”; ո՛չ Հրէի, և ո՛չ հեթանոսի. ո՛չ ծառայի, և ո՛չ ազատի. ո՛չ արուի, և ո՛չ իգի. զի ամենեքեան դուք մի էք ի Քրիստոս Յիսուս.

Women in Agat ‘ angełos ’ History of the Armenians


Hṙip‘simē is the winner of this battle, for she emerges victoriously from Trdat’s chamber and rushes to her friends. What follows is yet again typical of the conventions of the genre: she is caught, stripped off her clothes, and brutally tortured to death. However, unlike the conventions of martyrology, Hṙip‘simē’s martyrdom does not receive much space in the narrative and is described only in one brief paragraph. Many friends and supporters of Hṙip‘simē, men and women, follow her in her martyrdom,104 and among them is the abbess Gayianē, about whom several words should be said. As in the case of Hṙip‘simē, Gayianē’s name was preserved in oral tradition and was familiar to Agat‘angełos’ audience.105 She is the only nun besides Hṙip‘simē to whom voice is granted by Agat‘angełos. She accompanies Hṙip‘simē and encourages her to remain truthful to her faith and to endure all the pain in God’s name. Gayianē eventually dies as a martyr after being subjected to torture.106 Similar characters, who play an important supporting role in the narrative, are also found in other hagiographic traditions, but Gayianē cannot be identified with any known prototype. She is a motherly figure and a teacher who is shown to instruct her spiritual child and support her in her divine mission.107 Through the subsequent acts, the sermons, and the Teaching of St Gregory, Agat‘angełos, amongst other things, attempts to provide a symbolic interpretation of the virgins’ martyrdom and to explain their role in the conversion of the country. The views that he attributes to the main protagonist of the Christianisation narrative represent the attitudes adopted by the Armenian ecclesiastical authorities regarding the role of women in the Armenian Church. As noted by Calzolari, after death the virginal bodies of Hṙip‘simē and her companions are perceived as « réceptacle privilégié du divin », for they remain incorruptible after nine days of abandonment in the wild,108 which represents « une manifestation ultérieure du contact avec le divin dont elles 104 105 106 107

Aa §§199–201 and 207. Cf. Pogossian 2003, pp. 360–361. Aa §§138, 143, 149, 167, 175, 182–183, 185–190, and 204–210. A similar motherly figure is the deaconess Bryene in the Syriac story of martyrdom of St Febronia (Brock and Harvey 2008, §§512–650). Albeit under different circumstances, like Gayianē, Bryene urges the nuns of her convent to “stand up and resist” the enemy and “die for the sake of him who died for us in order that we may live with him” (§539). Bryene also advises her protégée, Febronia, to accept death rather than to succumb (§569), and like Hṙip‘simē, Febronia chooses to “manifest a man’s valiant conviction” (§570) and die. The similarities end here, for Bryene was not martyred but “lived for a further two years after the dedication of the blessed woman’s [Febronia’s] shrine. Having arranged everything, she then fell asleep in peace” (§649). 108 Aa §223.


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bénéficient ».109 The virgins are praised for the firmness of their faith and character,110 which they evince when God dispatches “his beloved martyrs” on this mission to Armenia.111 Thus, they become the source of new life and intercessors between God and the Armenians.112 These characterisations of the virgins and their fundamental role in Armenia’s Christianisation are repeated several times in the Teaching. The martyred nuns are alluded to as “Christian cups,”113 and should the Armenians drink from them, they will “burn away” their sins, their souls will be filled with the joy of purification,114 and they will “become witnesses of the truth of these preachers”.115 The virgins are praised for the renunciation of worldly pleasures,116 and their bodies and bones become “temples of God”117 and “dwelling places of his majesty”.118 Only “by the intercession of their prayers” can the Armenian people approach God.119 Moreover, St Gregory reiterates his belief that Hṙip‘simē and her companions were sent to Armenia by God120 and calls them “these apostles of yours”,121 which, as Calzolari writes, implies that « les vierges romaines étaient bien charges d’une mission, dont le champ a été choisi par Dieu lui-même ».122

109 Calzolari 2011b, p. 184. 110 Aa §230: … զիարդ զօրութեամբ աստուածութեան իւրոյ պահեաց հաստատուն զսուրբ վկայսն սիրելիսն, եւ ոչ նեղութիւնք բազումք երկմտեցուցին զմի ոք ի նոցանէն …; “… how by the power of his divinity he [God] kept his beloved holy martyrs;

nor did many tribulations make a single one of them doubt.” 111 Ibid., §237: զիւր վկայսն սիրելիս. 112 Ibid., §§234, 237, and 241. 113 By “Christian cups” St Gregory refers to the “cup of life” (բաժակն կենդանութեան), which he mentions in the previous paragraph (ibid., §540). 114 Ibid., §541: Ահա երեսուն եւ եօթն բաժակք քրիստոսեանք որ եկին պաշտել զձեզ…. Արդ՝ եթէ կամեսջիք սիրով ըմպել զբաժակն երանութեան, որ յակամայն

ի մէջ ձեր բղխեաց՝ այրեսցէ զմեղս ձեր եւ զտեսցէ եւ ընտրեսցէ զանձինս ձեր յուրախութիւն; “Behold the thirty-seven Christian cups who came to serve you…. So if

115 116 117 118 119 120 121 122

you desire with love to drink the cup of blessedness, which has sprung forth among you unexpectedly, it will burn away your sins and clean and purify your souls for joy.” Ibid., §544: լերուք վկայք ճշմարտութեանն քարոզաց. Ibid., §§563 and 599. Ibid., §564: Իսկ մարմինք նոցա եւ ոսկերք նոցա Աստուծոյ տաճարք են ի միջի ձերում. Ibid., §598: օթեւանք մեծութեան նորա. Ibid., §564: զի ոչ այլ իւիք կարիցէք դուք զԱստուած ընդ ձեզ հաշտեցուցանել եւ մերձենալ առ Աստուած՝ եթէ ոչ բարեխօսութեամբ աղօթից նոցա. Ibid., §237. Ibid., §572: ձերոց առաքելոցս. Calzolari 2011b, p. 188.

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This elevates Hṙip‘simē and her companions to an eminent position and allows them to assume authority as luminaries of the church. The overall representation of the Hṙip‘simian virgins is summarised by St Gregory in his final exhortation. In his address to the Armenian people he declares that the martyred virgins are to become “a strong fortress and mighty tower”, as well as “protectors by intercession”, because “[t]hey were valiant in the shedding of blood, so that by their martyrdom they might bring you to God. They brought you profit and showed the victorious power of their heroic struggle”.123 The choice of words by the author in this part is noteworthy. Agat‘angełos uses the word k‘aǰac‘ealk‘ (valiant) with the root k‘aǰ, an adjective that characterised male rulers and warriors of great valour, although occasionally it was also applied to champions of Christ.124 Furthermore, words and expressions such as “fortress”, “tower”, “protector”, “valiant in the shedding of blood,” and “victorious power of their heroic struggle” create a vivid image of warfare, which, given the historical context, could be an allusion to the Armenian uprising against the religious oppression of the Persians, the memory of which must still have been fresh in the minds of the audience within a decade after the events. The virgins fought courageously and died while protecting their faith against the heathens, as the Armenians led by the sparapet Vardan Mamikonean did on the plain of Avarayr. The burial of Hṙip‘simē and her companions followed by the construction of chapels on their tombs symbolise the establishment of the Armenian Church.125 As Calzolari notes, the bodies of the holy virgins literally become the temple of God and « la seule garantie » for the Armenians to approach God.126 This is the place, to borrow a phrase from Peter Brown, “where the contrasted poles of Heaven and Earth met”,127 and they met because holy women were laid to rest here. Such representation of female characters and their agency leaves no doubt that Agat‘angełos deliberately emphasises the role of women in Armenia’s Christianisation.

123 Aa §720: Եւ վկայքս այս լինիցին ձեզ ողորմութեամբ նորա բերդ ամուր եւ աշտարակ հզօր ամրութեան եւ վերակացուք բարեխօսութեամբ, հեղմամբ արեանն քաջացեալք, նահատակութեամբն իւրեանց զձեզ առեալ առ Աստուած մատուցանիցեն, որ շահեալք զձեզ՝ զիւրեանց նահատակութեանն մարտին ցուցին ձեզ զյաղթող զօրութիւնն.

124 See EH, pp. 534–535, and below Chapter 7. 125 Aa §§757–771. 126 Calzolari 2011b, pp. 184–185. 127 Brown 1981, p. 3.

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The Teaching

The Teaching, which constitutes a large part of Agat‘angełos’ History, contains several other references to female characters besides the ones mentioned already. Written in the genre of catechetical instruction, its narration is conspicuously male-centred. St Gregory presents and interprets the most important concepts of the Christian faith by referring to prominent male figures of the Old and New Testaments. Amongst female figures only the Virgin Mary is mentioned several times, whereas others are only invoked as examples of righteousness (Tabitha,128 Miriam129), or unrighteousness (Sapphira130). Within the context of patristic literature, it is noteworthy that there is no direct reference to female inferiority in this influential piece and one of the utterances even treats women and men as equals. While presenting the birth of humankind,131 Eve is not mentioned by name but the relevant passage from Genesis about her being created after Adam from his rib is mentioned, albeit without any elaboration.132 Adam, on the other hand, appears not only as the first human being, but he also shares the responsibility for the Fall with Eve,133 for, as St Gregory stresses, he “had freedom and free will and wisdom from God”.134 The shared responsibility for the Fall is also underscored in St Ephrem’s commentary on this biblical story.135

128 129 130 131 132

Aa §509. Ibid., §545. Ibid., §509. Ibid., §§263–274. Ibid., §275: Այս այժմ ոսկր յոսկերաց իմոց եւ մարմին ի մարմնոյ իմմէ. սա կոչեսցի կին, զի յառնէ իւրմէ առաւ; “This bone now is from my bone, and this flesh from my flesh; she will be called woman, because she was taken from her husband.” Cf. Armenian Commentary on Genesis attributed to St Ephrem (pp. 16–17 [18–20]), which uses the birth of Eve from Adam’s rib to degrade women to a position of inferiority. 133 Aa §§279–281. Cf. Ełišē, pp. 85–86 [31–32], in which the Fall is ascribed to the “man” or, more precisely, “person” (անձն) in general and no gender distinction is made. 134 Ibid., §279: ունէր ազատութիւն Ադամ եւ անձնիշխան կամս եւ իմաստութիւն յԱստուծոյ. On Adam’s free will in fifth-century texts, see Stone 2013, pp. 19–21. Eznik (Book I, XV:57–66), too, stresses the importance of free will and refuses to accept that evil is in the nature of human beings. 135 Leloir 1966, p. 406: « Le serpent fourbe s’approcha de l’oreille inexpérimentée, et lui accepter comme précoce un fruit qui était en fait d’arrière-saison ; naïvement, Adam et Ève lui firent confiance » (cf. Ephrem 1953, Conclusio 10, p. 347). For this aspect of St Ephrem’s theology, see Anderson 1999, pp. 103–105, and for the Syriac influence on the Teaching, see Thomson 2001, pp. 48–49 and Ter-Petrosyan 1986.

Women in Agat ‘ angełos ’ History of the Armenians


In §347 and §350 again only Adam is recalled in relation to the first sin, and there is no reference to Eve’s being seduced first.136 It challenges the common discourse of patristic literature which justifies the inferior position of women in society by Eve’s role in the fall. Interestingly, a similar shift of focus from Eve’s being seduced first to Adam’s defiance of the Lord’s commandment is found in Aphrahat’s Demonstrations.137 Agat‘angełos is not the only fifth-century Armenian author who avoids highlighting Eve’s failure to follow God’s commandment. In his History Ełišē, too, writes that it was the fallen angel who “proffered an unrealizable hope to the untested, inexperienced, and newly created man, as to a child, turning his mind upwards so that by eating of the fruit of the tree … he might become god.”138 The Virgin Mary appears on several occasions in §§364–395. As in the works of the Greek Fathers, the emphasis is on her virginal state and the virginal conception, which overcame the original sin of humankind and gave human flesh to Jesus Christ. She became the recipient of divine grace and “conceived by the Holy Spirit the son of God in her chaste and pure womb in a manner that passes comprehension.”139 The Holy Virgin then passed this grace onto all women and opened the gates of salvation in front of them, for, as Agat‘angełos 136 A similar approach is adopted by Paul in Rom. 5:12–14: “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned – sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law. Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come.” 137 Aphrahat, Demonstration IX:14: “The condition of Adam was earthy; he was from the ground. His Lord gave him a command to keep; if he had kept what was commanded him, his Lord would have brought him to an exalted position. But because he wanted to receive exaltation, which was not part of his original condition, his Lord made him return to his former condition of abasement”; XIV:37: “But the transgression of the Law is found with Adam. From the first day and forever, he transgresses the Law.” See also, Jarkins 2008, pp. 35–43. 138 Ełišē, p. 89 [37]: Ոմն ի հրեշտակաց յանմահիցն գնդէն ստամբակեալ եւ ի բաց գնացեալ յերկնից, եւ ի մեր աշխարհս եկալ՝ պատիր բանիւք եւ սուտ խոստմամբ զանլինելի յոյսն առաջի դնէր՝ իբրեւ տղայ մանկան՝ անփորձ եւ անկիրթ նորաթեք մարդոյն, ի վեր հայեցուցանելով զմիտս նորա, ուտելով ի պտղոյ ծառոյն, … զի լիցի աստուած. 139 Aa §392: Եւ յղացեալ այնուհետեւ ի Հոգւոյն սրբոյ շնորհագիւտ կուսին յանարանց յանապական արգանդին զորդին Աստուծոյ՝ անհասական պայմանաւ. A parallel passage is found in John Chrysostom (1862d, PG 57, 42): Καὶ πῶς

τὸ Πνεῦμα εἰργάσατο τοῦτο ἐκ παρθένου; Εἰ γὰρ τῆς φύσεως ἐργαζομένης ἀδύνατον ἑρμηνεῦσαι τῆς διαπλάσεως τὸν τρόπον, πῶς τοῦ Πνεύματος θαυματουργοῦντος δυνησόμεθα ταῦτα εἰπεῖν; “‘But how was it that the Spirit wrought this of a virgin?’ For if, when nature is at work,


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informs his audience, “women also were blessed on account of the virgin birth which was from among them”.140 In contrast to the Hṙip‘simian virgins, she is presented not as an active agent of these processes, but as an idealised, speechless, divine instrument for the successful accomplishment of the prophecy about the advent of God’s son. 6

Xosroviduxt and Ašxēn

Alongside the holy virgins who came to Armenia from a foreign land, Agat‘angełos presents and extols local women with whom the members of his audience could clearly identify. Notably, like Hṙip‘simē, these women are of royal lineage: Ašxēn is King Trdat’s wife and Xosroviduxt is his sister. For the noble women in the audience these characters were more appropriate role models than the Hṙip‘simian virgins, for they are presented as earthly Armenian women not bound to Christ by the oath of virginity. The zeal with which Agat‘angełos describes their participation in the events that transformed the country and its people reveals his intention to provide a more tangible point of reference for emulation. Xosroviduxt is the second female character after Hṙip‘simē with whom God communicates. She receives the divine message in her dream and urges people to go to Artašat and fetch Gregory, for he is the only person who can cure king Trdat and his court from divinely inflicted insanity and suffering.141 Not much can be inferred about the king’s sister from Agat‘angełos’ narrative besides the fact that the author wishes to highlight her presence by the side of her brother and her participation in various acts of piety. In Aa Xosroviduxt is merely presented as “the king’s sister”,142 whereas in Vg we are additionally informed that it is impossible to explain the manner of the formation; how, when the Spirit is working miracles, shall we be able to express these?” (John Chrysostom 1994, p. 22). 140 Aa §684: եւ կանայք օրհնեցան վասն կուսանին ծննդեանն որ ի նոցանէն. Cf. Aphrahat, Demonstration VI:6: “But now, by the coming of the child of the blessed Mary, the thistles are uprooted, the sweat is wiped away, the fig tree is cursed, the dust is made salty, the curse is nailed to the Cross, the point of the sword is removed from before the tree of life (which is given as food to the faithful), and paradise is promised to the blessed and the virgins and the holy ones.” In the anonymous early Christian Syriac Hymn on Mary no. 2, verse 10 (Brock 1994, p. 36) the blame for the Fall is completely removed from women: “In Mary there has come hope for the female sex: // from the insults they have heard and the shame they have felt // she has given them freedom; they are no longer subject to blame.” 141 Aa §§213–214. 142 Ibid., §214: քեռ թագաւորին.

Women in Agat ‘ angełos ’ History of the Armenians


she “lived a pious life”,143 but the latter could be a retrospective appraisal of the princess. We further hear her address people in a public place and observe her determination to convince them that Gregory is still alive, even though they first laugh at her suggestion.144 After this episode, Ašxēn and Xosroviduxt appear side by side in the rest of the narrative. They are among the representatives of the noble families who accompany Trdat and Gregory in their mission of illuminating the country and obediently carry out the saint’s commands. Thus, along with other noblewomen they bring expensive clothes and jewellery in order to decorate the bodies of the martyred virgins before their burial.145 Afterwards, with the king, they prepare the resting-places for the martyred saints by digging their graves and removing the earth.146 In a short passage (§766) Agat‘angełos mentions Ašxēn and Xosroviduxt’s names two times, thus emphasising their participation in the communal repentance act by which homage was paid to Hṙip‘simē and her companions. The visible presence of the queen and the princess by the side of the king during this critical moment of transition and transformation of the Armenian society is remarkable. It reveals Agat‘angełos’ genuine willingness to underscore the contribution of these royal women to the Christianisation of the country and to create a role model for emulation. 7


Agat‘angełos’ complicated and multi-layered account of the Christianisation of Armenia features women of noble origin who are presented as active and indispensable agents of this socio-political and cultural change. Although an attempt is made to extol the church as the most important institution in the country, and to emphasise the primacy of the patriarchal see of St Gregory in Vałaršapat, it could barely escape readers’ notice that women actually lay the foundations for the Armenian Church. That Gregory emerges safe and sound out of the pit after thirteen years of oblivion and illuminates the land of Armenia becomes possible only thanks to the martyrdom of the virgins and the divinely sent vision of the princess Xosroviduxt. Hṙip‘simē and her companions become the intercessors between God and the Armenians, and 143 144 145 146

Thomson 2010, p. 278. Aa §§215–216. Ibid., §761. Ibid., §§765–766.


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clear the path to their salvation. Agat‘angełos adopts a common patristic motif that the “virgin birth” cleanses women of Eve’s transgression and permits them to evangelise and preach. Finally, like the anonymous author of MartThad, Agat‘angełos emphasises the prominent role of women in the transmission of the new religion. In his interpretation of Armenia’s Christianisation, Agat‘angełos creates two types of female role models – virgins who renounce earthly pleasures and dedicate themselves to godly service, and secular women who support the transmission of the new faith. As we shall see in the next chapter, Armenian sources have preserved little information about female monastic establishments in the country after the second half of the fifth century, whereas the names of many noblewomen have reached us owing to their contribution to spreading and sustaining Christianity. Such disproportionate attestations should be attributed to the lingering pre-Christian mentality of people for whom the notion of sexual renunciation was alien. Similar to MartThad, the male author of the History repeatedly acknowledges men’s authority in the public space. It is Gregory who enunciates the divine revelations and interprets them from a male perspective and it is King Trdat whose political will is required to convert the entire nation. Thus, although women’s agency is crucial for the cohesion and unfolding of the storyline, at the conceptual level the male-centred hierarchy is reinforced. As a result of the transmission of these stories, the Armenians perceived worldly matters through the prism of Christian doctrine, of which Agat‘angełos’ History with the Teaching of St Gregory and the anonymous Martyrdom of St Thaddeus and Sanduxt were a fundamental part. In this way Christianity slowly redefined the existing customary law and gradually became a significant element of identity. The spiritual qualities of the Hṙip‘simian virgins, Queen Ašxēn, Xosroviduxt, and Sanduxt were idealised and espoused by medieval authors who often preached them through their works.

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The Early Armenian Church and Female Asceticism 1


The concepts of virginity and sexual renunciation played a central role in the ideology of the early Christian church.1 The fourth century witnessed the growth in popularity of ascetic practices and the proliferation of ascetic communities in both the East and the West of the Christian world.2 Extant sources attest to the spread of different forms of ascetic lifestyle: from communities of women and men living a life of continence either in an isolated area, or at the outskirts of a town, or in the countryside, to individuals dwelling in isolation in deserts or remote mountainous areas. However, the eremitic and peripatetic model was the most popular form of early Christian asceticism found in different parts of the Christian world including Armenia.3 In this period the adoption of an ascetic lifestyle did not, however, mean a complete severing of ties with their communities, for many ascetics followed the rigorous discipline of continence while at the same time actively interacting with the communities in the vicinity of their dwelling place.4 It was in the same fourth century that considerable discussions about regulating the practice of asceticism took place: in Asia Minor it was with the three Cappadocian Fathers, Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Gregory of Nyssa, and in Egypt with Pachomius, Athanasius of Alexandria, and Shenoute.5 In the Syriac tradition different forms of asceticism were explored in the works of Aphrahat and Ephrem.6 Such discussions, or in Peter Brown’s words “this vigorous polyphony”,7 eventually reached Armenia and had their impact on

1 Clark 1999, pp. 16, 18–19; Cameron 1991, pp. 72–73. 2 It should be noted that in this period it is still too soon to speak about organised monasticism and monastic complexes, but the fourth century can be considered the beginning of the process which led to their establishment. 3 See Vööbus 1958, pp. 85–86; Caner 2002, pp. 1–82; Garsoïan 2005–2007, p. 217. 4 Clark 1999, pp. 33–36 and Elm 1996, pp. ix and 14. Maria Chiara Giorda (2015) has demonstrated that similar arrangements, involving the preservation of close family ties among ascetics and their relatives, existed as a survival strategy in early ascetic communities of Egypt. 5 Elm 1996, p. 19. 6 See Griffith 1998, pp. 222–238. 7 Brown 2008, p. xl,

© David Zakarian, 2021 | doi:10.1163/9789004445031_006


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the formation of the Armenian monasticism, though with some noticeable differences, especially as far as female asceticism was concerned.8 The most recent study of female asceticism in early Christian Armenia conducted by Zaroui Pogossian9 and Nina Garsoïan’s investigation of monasticism in medieval Armenia10 have revealed significant gaps in our knowledge of this aspect of Armenian Christianity. Lack of archaeological evidence in conjunction with scarcity of written sources that attest to the existence and functioning of female ascetic communities do not allow us to form a thorough understanding of their role in early Christian Armenia.11 In this chapter, therefore, I shall focus primarily on the ways in which fifth-century Armenian authors spoke about female asceticism, what their attitudes towards it were, and what they can tell us about Armenian society’s stance on it. The Armenian authors’ representation of ascetic practice should, nevertheless, be studied within the context of developments taking place in Greco-Syriac circles, for the Armenian sources suggest that Armenian asceticism had a Syrian origin, though at a later period Greek influence is also traceable. 2

Female Asceticism in the Greco-Syriac Sources

In Reading Renunciation: Asceticism and Scripture in Early Christianity, Elizabeth Clark has demonstrated how the Church Fathers in the Greek and Latin traditions created “a new, highly asceticized version of Christianity”12 by intertextual reading and interpretation of the two Testaments. Creating a new meaning by interpreting biblical texts from a specific perspective was the main practice. Despite a wide variety of opinions and attitudes concerning celibacy, marriage, and sexual renunciation, several basic points can be underscored.


That the Armenian clergy developed their own interpretation of concepts such as sexual abstinence, celibacy, the vow of continence, and marriage is, nevertheless, not surprising, for a similar phenomenon can be observed in different parts of the Christian world, especially in the early Christian tradition (see, ibid., pp. xl, xlii, lxvii, as well as the discussion in chapters two to ten in which different views of early Christian authors on these issues are discussed). 9 Pogossian 2012. The first study of female asceticism in Armenia was carried out in 1923 by the Reverend Vardan Hac‘uni, whose conclusions have largely shaped our understanding of the form of asceticism practised in early Christian Armenia. 10 Garsoïan 2005–2007. 11 Pogossian 2012, p. 175; Garsoïan 2005–2007, p. 183. Similar situation is in Syriac studies (Harvey 2005, p. 127). 12 Clark 1999, p. 371.

The Early Armenian Church and Female Asceticism


Asceticism was eagerly embraced by many women, for it allowed them to transform their life and enjoy more liberties outside of the bounds of marriage. Having been excluded from holding important ecclesiastical offices, women, especially of the higher social classes, were given the opportunity to participate in ascetic life on a relatively equal basis with men.13 Like their male counterparts, they were, nevertheless, subjected to rules and regulations that were voiced in the works of the Church Fathers, who prescribed certain practices and imposed limitations on others. The Church Fathers’ attitude towards marriage was twofold. Some of them denounced marriage by appropriating different passages from the Scriptures to their purpose, whereas others used the same strategy to speak about marriage in a positive way, but still giving preference to the life of continence.14 In this respect the views of John Chrysostom, one of the most influential Greek Church Fathers in Armenia, are worth mentioning. In several of his works Chrysostom touches upon the issues of sexual continence and marriage. In “Quod regulares feminae viris cohabitare non debeant,” for instance, he presents the life of continence as freedom from the marital bonds granted to virgins by God, whereas a virgin’s life under the same roof with a man resembles marriage, which Chrysostom characterises as δουλεία (slavery, bondage).15 In another work Chrysostom claims that “virginity is as much superior to marriage as heaven is to earth, as the angels are to men”,16 because marriage for him “springs from disobedience, from a curse, from death”.17 Despite this, marriage 13 Ibid., p. 37. 14 See, for instance, Clark’s insightful discussion of various opinions that the Greco-Roman Church Fathers expressed on marriage and continence (ibid., pp. 45–370). 15 John Chrysostom 1863, PG 47.11, p. 530: Τί τῶν ἡδέων ἀποστᾶσα τοῦ γάμου τοῖς φορτικοῖς ἑαυτὴν ὑποβάλλεις τοῦ γάμου; Τί γὰρ φορτικώτερον ἢ ἄνδρα ἔχειν καὶ τὰ ἐκείνου μεριμνᾶν; Ἀπήλλαξέν σε τῆς ἐπαχθείας ταύτης ὁ Θεός· τὸ Πρὸς τὸν ἄνδρα σου ἡ ἀποστροφή σου, καὶ αὐτός σου κυριεύσει λέλυταί σοι διὰ τῆς παρθενίας· τί πάλιν ἐπισπᾶσαι τὴν δουλείαν; Ἐλευθέραν σε ἐποίησεν ὁ Χριστὸς, σὺ δὲ σαυτῇ ῥάπτεις πράγματα· ἀμέριμνόν σε ἐποίησε, σὺ δὲ ἐπινοεῖς φροντίδας; “Why, when you stand aloof from the pleasures of marriage, do you subject yourself to its burdens? For what is more burdensome than having a husband and being anxious about his affairs? God has freed you from this encumbrance. The saying, ‘Your refuge is your husband and he will rule over you’ [Gen 3:16], has been brought to naught for you by virginity. Why do you welcome slavery anew? Christ has made you free, but you stitch together annoyances for yourself” (Miller 2005, p. 149). 16 Ibid., p. 106; John Chrysostom 1862a, PG 48, 540: Καλὸν ἡ παρθενία; Σύμφημι κἀγώ. Ἀλλὰ τοῦ γάμου κρείττων; Καὶ τοῦτο συνομολογῶ· εἰ βούλει, καὶ τὸ ὅσον κρείττων προτίθημι ὅσον γῆς ὁ οὐρανός, ὅσον τῶν ἀνθρώπων οἱ ἄγγελοι… We find a similar argument and imagery in Aphrahat (see below). 17 Miller 2005, p. 109; John Chrysostom 1862a, PG 48, 544: Ἀπὸ τῆς παρακοῆς, ἀπὸ τῆς ἀρᾶς, ἀπὸ τοῦ θανάτου.


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also has positive aspects, for it “was granted for the sake of procreation, but an even greater reason was to quench the fiery passion of our nature”.18 For Chrysostom, nevertheless, the primary concern is spiritual chastity. It is achieved not only through “the absence of wicked and shameful desire, the absence of ornaments and superfluous cares,” but also through “being unsoiled by life’s cares”.19 Only by removing oneself from the temptations of daily life, which the life of continence offers to every believer, can one eventually acquire spiritual chastity. We find similar views, albeit more negative towards marriage, in the works of Gregory of Nyssa, who was also well known in the ecclesiastical circles of Armenia in the fifth century. In his “De Virginitate” Gregory describes marriage as a “burdensome way of life”,20 for no matter how happy it is and how successfully they fare in society, there is always “grief inseparably joined to their lives” expressed in the form of “the continuous expectation of death”.21 Gregory also asserts that only through a life of continence by preserving one’s virginity will mortal men be able to go to paradise.22 From amongst the fourth-century Syriac authors, whose works exerted considerable influence on the development of Armenian theological thought, undoubtedly Aphrahat and Ephrem stand out. It is commonly believed that both authors, like most of their counterparts in the Greco-Roman tradition, considered ascetic lifestyle to be superior to marriage, but marriage itself was still deemed acceptable.23 18

Miller 2005, p. 112; John Chrysostom 1862a, PG 48, 547: Ἐδόθη μὲν οὖν καὶ παιδοποιΐας ἕνεκεν ὁ γάμος· πολλῷ δὲ πλέον ὑπὲρ τοῦ σβέσαι τὴν τῆς φύσεως πύρωσιν. 19 Miller 2005, p. 117; John Chrysostom 1862a, PG 48, 589–590: οὐ γὰρ ἀρκεῖ τὸ μὴ γαμηθῆναι ποιῆσαι παρθένον ἀλλὰ δεῖ καὶ τῆς ψυχικῆς ἁγνείας, ἁγνείαν δὲ λέγω οὐ τὸ πονηρᾶς καὶ αἰσχρᾶς ἐπιθυμίας ἀπηλλάχθαι μόνον καὶ καλλωπισμάτων καὶ περιεργίας, ἀλλὰ καὶ φροντίδος εἶναι καθαρὰν βιωτικῆς. 20 Miller 2005, p. 96; Gregory of Nyssa 1863b, PG 46, 325: τὸν βαρὺν τοῦτον βίον. 21 Miller 2005, p. 96; Gregory of Nyssa 1863b, PG 46, 325: ἀχώριστον ἔχουσι καὶ συνεζευγ μένην τῇ ζωῇ τὴν λύπην … Ἡ γὰρ διηνεκὴς τοῦ θανάτου προσδοκία. 22 Ibid., PG 46, 376–377: ἐπειδὴ ὁ μὲν παράδεισος ζώντων ἐστὶν οἰκητή ριον τοὺς διὰ τῆς ἁμαρτίας νεκρωθέντας οὐ προσδεχό μενος, ἡμεῖς δὲ σάρκινοι καὶ θνητοί, πεπραμένοι τῇ ἁμαρτίᾳ, πῶς ἔστιν « ἐν τῇ χώρᾳ τῶν ζώντων » γενέσθαι τὸν τῇ δυναστείᾳ τοῦ θανάτου κρατούμενον; … ἀποστάντας ἡμᾶς τῆς κατὰ σάρκα ζωῆς, ᾗ πάντως ἐπακολουθεῖ καὶ ὁ θάνατος, τοιοῦτον ἐπιζητῆσαι βίον, ὃς οὐκέτι τοῦ θανάτου τὴν ἀκολουθίαν ἐφέλκεται· οὗτος δέ ἐστιν ὁ ἐν παρθενίᾳ βίος.; “since paradise is a dwelling place of living beings which does not admit those who are dead because of sin, and we are ‘carnal and mortal, sold into the power of sin’ [Rom 7:14], how is it possible for one who is ruled by the power of death to dwell in the land of the living? … separating ourselves from life in the flesh which death normally follows upon, we must seek a kind of life which does not have death as its consequence. This is the life of virginity” (Miller 2005, p. 101). 23 Murray 2006, pp. 13, 154–155.

The Early Armenian Church and Female Asceticism


In Demonstration XVIII:8 Aphrahat assures his audience that marriage is a divine creation and thus it cannot be bad. However, like “heaven is more excellent than earth”, like “light is much better and more excellent than night”, like “the sun is much better and more excellent than the moon”, like “one star is much better and more excellent than another in its brightness”, and like “Adam is much better and more excellent than Eve”, so “virginity is more excellent” than marriage and procreation, which are also created by God.24 Thus, the pre-eminence of virginity over marriage is emphasised. Despite this, for Aphrahat, marriage still appears to be the best option if women and men, who have dedicated themselves to the life of continence,25 eventually decide to live under the same roof.26 A similar hierarchy in which the virginal state is given preference over marriage is found in the hymns of Ephrem, which have been preserved only in Armenian translation.27 In Hymn IX, for instance, Virginity is in conversation with Marriage and from the first lines it becomes apparent that Marriage stands much below Virginity and Purity (or Holiness).28 Marriage boasts of giving birth to many righteous men and mentions them by name, but Virginity reproaches Marriage for also giving birth to a host of unrighteous ones.29 A remarkable response by Marriage follows: May the Apostle, who said this, intercede regarding this: “May she be saved,” he said, “through her childbearing, Provided they continue in faith and love [1 Tim 2:15].” O, Virginity that was born through an honourable Marriage, Beseech there for my roots Like he beseeched here for you. Although I can prove my innocence, I cannot reach your stature.30 24 Aphrahat, Demonstration XVIII:8. 25 Here Aphrahat refers to ‘the Daughters and the Sons of the Covenant’, that is the bnāt and bnay qyāmâ, as well as to the couples that have chosen to live separately. 26 Aphrahat, Demonstration VI:4. 27 For the Armenian text of the hymns accompanied with Latin translation, see Mariès and Mercier 1961, pp. 26–239. 28 Ibid., p. 72: Լուր, լուր, Ամուսնութիւն, զպատերազմ, / յոր մտեալ էին Կուսութիւն եւ Սրբութիւն, եւ մաշեցաւ. եթէ քանի խոնարհ է աստիճան իւր, քան զերկոցուն; Listen, listen, Marriage, about the war, / in which Virginity and Purity were involed; and it was devastated, / for how much lower its rank is from the other two. 29 Ibid., pp. 72–74. 30 Ibid., pp. 74–76: Առաքեալն որ ասաց զայս, եղիցի բարեխաւս վասն այսորիկ. / Կեցցէ, ասէ, վասն ծննդոց իւրոց, / եթէ կացցեն ի հաւատս եւ ի սէր: / Ո՜ կուսութիւն, որ ծնաւ ի պատուական ամուսնութենէ, / խնդրեա անդ վասն արմատոցս. /


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This argument by Marriage appears to be convincing to Virginity and remains unanswered. The quoted extract allows us to access Ephrem’s understanding of the role of marriage in society: it is definitely inferior to the life of continence and especially virginity, but even in that status marriage offers possibilities for salvation, especially to women through labour pains. The Church Fathers, of course, explored the issues of marriage and sexual continence in a much more scrupulous and nuanced way than is presented here. But it is easy to perceive that, in general, the views expressed in Greco-Syriac patristic literature of the fourth-fifth centuries evince a more favourable attitude towards the ascetic lifestyle compared to a life in marriage.31 Marriage was seen as the lesser evil when people were unable to restrain their carnal desires but it did not guarantee redemption in the way that the life in continence would. 3

Female Asceticism in the Fifth-Century Armenian Texts

Early Christian Armenian authors often speak about ascetics who led a peripatetic and eremitic lifestyle. However, with the exception of the Hṙip‘simian virgins’ alleged journey from Rome to Armenia prompted by Diocletian’s persecutions, no other references to women ascetics implied any sort of travel or movement. On the contrary, they seemed to live in communities in special places which medieval authors call argelavan kusanac‘,32 kusastank‘,33 and menanoc‘,34 rendered in English as “convent”, “dwelling-of-virgins”, and “monastery” respectively. Nevertheless, it has rightly been emphasised that it would be anachronistic to perceive these establishments as “structured and well-organised coenobitic monasteries”, for no evidence supports this view.35 To understand the nature of female asceticism in fourth- and fifth-century

որպէս խնդրեաց նա աստ վասն քո: / Զի թէեւ արդարանալ կարեմ ես. / ելանել յաստիճան քո ոչ կարեմ.

31 For more on the two available options of Christian life in the early church, see Brown 2008, pp. 205–209. 32 Aa §138. 33 EH, V.xxxi. 34 Ełišē, p. 103 [52]. 35 Pogossian 2012, p. 178; see also Hac‘uni 1923, pp. 13–14. The same conclusion has been reached by scholars of Syriac studies for similar references in contemporary Syriac literature (see, for instance, Brock 1973, pp. 11–12).

The Early Armenian Church and Female Asceticism


Armenia, it is helpful to retrace the route through which this practice was initially introduced among Christian Armenians. A comparative study of the representations of the first monastic establishments in the Armenian and Syriac traditions has led scholars to assume that the origins of Armenian monasticism most likely lie in the Syriac tradition.36 This has been supported by contextual analysis of the terms used to describe ascetic practices in early Christian Armenia, for we may observe striking parallels between the accounts of Armenian and Syriac authors. Thus, the descriptions of holy men dwelling on their own, or in small groups, in the mountains, or uninhabited areas found in Armenian sources37 recall similar accounts in contemporary Syriac literature.38 Of special interest is the complex concept of uxt (covenant, vow, pact, congregation) found in most Armenian texts of the fifth century,39 for in the meaning of the ‘covenant of the faith’ it seems to correspond to the Syriac qyāmâ.40 The latter term, in particular in the phrase bnāt qyāmâ, usually rendered as the “daughters of the covenant”,41 is very important for the present study. The bnāt qyāmâ were ascetic women who dedicated their lives to “virginity and continence” and who perceived themselves as “betrothed to Christ”.42 These virgins mainly “lived in great communities as well as in the congregations in smaller towns, villages and hamlets.”43 They used to wear distinctive clothing that indicated their belonging to this specific group of believers,44 but they did not seclude themselves from the rest of the world and took part in the life of a larger community. The bnāt qyāmâ also sang “psalms and various kinds of hymns in certain liturgical celebrations of the civic churches,”45 which was apparently linked to their service “as assistants to the deacons”.46 36 Pogossian 2012, pp. 185–189; Garsoïan 2005–2007, pp. 194–204; Vööbus 1958, pp. vi–vii. 37 See Garsoïan 2005–2007, pp. 194–196 and EH, p. 319, n. 2 in V.xxv, pp. 506–507, 547, 566–567. 38 See Brock 1973, pp. 11–12 and Vööbus 1958, pp. 221–223. 39 For the use of uxt in the Epic Histories, see EH, pp. 555–556; in Ełišē’s History, see Thomson’s Introduction, 1982, pp. 9–12. For the concept of uxt in female ascetic establishments, see Hac‘uni 1923, p. 16. 40 Garsoïan 2005–2007, pp. 196–197. For an overview of the concept of qyāmâ, see Vööbus 1958, pp. 97–103, 197–208; for a relatively recent discussion of all the connotations of qyāmâ, see Griffith 1998, pp. 229–234 and Jarkins 2008, pp. 81–89. 41 Griffith 1998, p. 229. 42 Vööbus 1958, p. 199. 43 Ibid., p. 203. 44 Ibid., p. 206. 45 Harvey 2005, p. 128. 46 Vööbus 1958, p. 207.


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This brief summary of the representation of the bnāt qyāmâ covers only some aspects of their activity and experience. However, these characteristic features allow us to reveal considerable similarities between this group of Syrian women and the Armenian consecrated virgins (kusank‘) and ‘believing’ women (hawatawor kanayk‘, kanayk‘ k‘ristosakan hawatoy). As the subsequent discussion will demonstrate, the fifth-century Armenian texts featuring the life of ascetic women contain all the aforementioned elements of the bnāt qyāmâ, except for references to their function as assistants of deacons.47 Finally, the extant fragmentary information suggests that female ascetic communities in Armenia were open not only to young virgins (kusank‘), but also to older, perhaps even married, women and widows (hawatawor kanayk‘) who chose to take on a life of sexual continence.48 The evidence that we have at our disposal additionally supports the view that such communities existed before the rebellion of 450–451, but after their destruction during the punitive campaign of the Persians these communities were not revived and thus ceased to exist.49 Female Asceticism in Agat‘angełos’ History 3.1 The most detailed, though still exiguous, description of ascetic women’s experience is found in Agat‘angełos’ History. It also contains many inconsistencies pointed out by Pogossian, who has already underscored the problems that arise when interpreting the representation of the Hṙip‘simian virgins: should we treat Agat‘angełos’ account as a rendering of orally transmitted stories and memories? Is he borrowing his details from Greco-Roman sources, or should we accept Hac‘uni’s suggestion that the author relies on a contemporary monastic establishment to describe one that existed about a century and a half before?50 In the absence of any concrete evidence it is not possible to embrace any of these hypotheses, though most probably Agat‘angełos’ knowledge of female ascetic establishments was acquired from various sources, rather than from direct experience. If there were functioning communities of consecrated virgins at the time of writing (ca 460s), as a cleric Agat‘angełos would better 47

It is worth mentioning that in later sources we come across many references to the existence of female diaconate in the Armenian Church (see Arat 2000). Furthermore, in Syriac tradition “[a]fter the seventh century, it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish between the offices of deaconess and Daughter of the Covenant, whose roles and functions seem eventually combined into a skeleton of their earlier duties” (Harvey 2005, p. 135). For deaconesses in Syriac tradition, see Brock 1996. 48 Hac‘uni 1923, p. 17. 49 Pogossian 2012, pp. 211–212. 50 Ibid., pp. 192–193.

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know their internal structure, and his description would not be so inconsistent and, sometimes, vague. Therefore, it seems more justified to treat his account as reflecting his general knowledge and understanding of the functioning of female ascetic communities based on his memories from the pre-Avarayr period, as well as on contemporary literary and oral sources. The initial description of the place where the Hṙip‘simian virgins dwelt, namely the argelavank‘ kusanac‘, is of great interest. Then they [Diocletian’s soldiers] came and found in the city of Rome a convent of virgins, living solitary hermetic lives, eating vegetables, sober, modest, and pure women of the Christian faith, who day and night and the whole time by praising and blessing were worthy to raise to God in the heights their perfect prayers. Their leader was called Gaiane, and her protégée, who was descended from pious and royal lineage, was called Rhipsime.51 Thomson has translated argelavank‘ kusanac‘ as “a convent of virgins”, but in the comments he has also highlighted that argelavank‘ literally means “enclosure” attested, according to the NBHL, only in this text.52 Pogossian prefers to render that phrase as “an encloistered dwelling-place of virgins”.53 Both scholars, most importantly, stress the fact that the compound noun argelavank‘ denotes a restricted area inhabited, in this case, by the kusank‘ – the virgins. Although this dwelling-place is allegedly located in Rome, one of the largest contemporary cities, the community is described as mianjnakan leṙnakan, literally ‘solitary mountain-dwelling’. Through such an inconsistent representation the author consciously attempts to establish a direct link between Rome and Armenian Christianity, at the same time enhancing the prestige of this congregation by describing them as ‘mountain-dwellers’.54 The affectionate tone with which Agat‘angełos introduces the virgins in this passage conveys his wholehearted approval of their lifestyle. This attitude does 51 Aa §138: Յայնմ ժամանակի եկեալ գտանէին ի քաղաքին Հռոմայեցւոց արգելավանս մի կուսանաց՝ միանձնական լեռնական, ընդակերս, զգաստացեալս, պարկեշտականս, սրբամատոյց կանայս քրիստոսական հաւատոց, որ զցայգ եւ զցերեկ եւ յամենայն ժամանակի փառաւորութեամբ եւ օրհնութեամբ զկատարեալ աղօթսն իւրեանց առ Աստուած առաքել ի բարձունս արժանի լինէին: Որոյ անուն էր գլխաւորին Գայիանէ, եւ սան նորին՝ ի դստերաց ուրումն յաստուածապաշտ եւ ի թագակալ տոհմէ, զի անուն էր նորա Հռիփսիմէ.

52 Thomson 2010, pp. 213–214. 53 Pogossian 2012, pp. 191 and 193. 54 Ibid., p. 194.


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not change throughout the narrative, and the chastity and devoutness of the virgins, especially of Hṙip‘simē, are repeatedly eulogised.55 Agat‘angełos further mentions a second place where the virgins take refuge from Diocletian’s men. After fleeing to Armenia they reside in the vat-stores of the vineyard (i hnjanaharks aygestanwoyn), which were situated on the outskirts of the capital city Vałaršapat.56 Thomson believes that “a more symbolic hiding-place would be difficult to find,” for the vat-store symbolises the church, as it “is widely attested in patristic exegesis”, both Greek and Syriac, and it is a site where after the martyrdom of the virgins one of the first chapels is built.57 The two references to the dwelling-places of the Hṙip‘simian virgins reveal important similarities. In both cases the virgins were residing in a designated building and it was located on the edge of, or perhaps slightly outside, the city. This fact provides further support to the assumption that the early congregations of ascetic women in Armenia were allocated, or possessed, a specific physical space in the immediate vicinity of inhabited areas, where they could cloister themselves to pray and live a life of chastity and abstinence, without fully detaching themselves from the milieu to which they belonged. Another passage also implies that these women did not lose all connection with their families. Agat‘angełos writes that when the virgins learnt about Diocletian’s plan to marry Hṙip‘simē, “they left the land of their birth, their possessions and property and close relations and families for the sake of the divine commandment.”58 This is a clear indication that they did not withdraw completely from society and could still own some property. Agat‘angełos writes little about the internal structure and organisation of these communities. However, the portrayal of the relationship between Hṙip‘simē and Gayianē may provide some knowledge about it. The overall representation of the interaction between the two is strongly reminiscent of the 55 Also see the discussion of Hṙip‘simē’s representation in the previous chapter. 56 Aa §150: Յայնմ ժամանակի գային հասանէին յերկիրն Հայոց, յԱյրարատ գաւառ, ի Վաղարշապատ քաղաք, զոր եւ Նորաքաղաքն կոչեն, ի նիստս թագաւորացն Հայոց: Այնուհետեւ եկեալ մտանէին ի հնձանայարկս այգեստանւոյն, որ կան շինեալ ի հիւսիսոյ յարեւելից կուսէ; “Then they arrived in the land of Armenia, in

the province of Ayrarat, in the city of Vałaršapat which is also called Nor K‘ałak‘, the residence of the Armenian kings. They entered the vat-stores of the vineyard which were constructed to the North-East …” Although in Aa §158, this place is described as ի նմին թագաւորականին ի Վաղարշապատ քաղաքի (“in the same royal city of Vałaršapat”), in  §166 it is found outside the city: … հնձանին, ուր էին վանք նոցա արտաքոյ քաղաքին; “… the vat-store, where they had been dwelling outside the city.” 57 Thomson 1979, p. 114. 58 Aa §149: թողեալ զերկիր ծննդեան իւրեանց, զինչս եւ զստացուածս եւ զմերձաւոր զազգակիցս եւ զտոհմականս վասն աստուածական հրամանին.

The Early Armenian Church and Female Asceticism


relationship between the dayeak (nurse or tutor) and the san (nursling or pupil). The dayeakut‘iwn was a well-established social institution in Arsacid Armenia, according to which the children of a noble family were normally raised by another family, though such cases are attested only for boys.59 Throughout the narrative Gayianē is presented as glxawor (leader, headmistress),60 dayeak,61 mayr (mother), and glux (head),62 supporting and advising Hṙip‘simē, who is referred to as her san (nursling, pupil).63 The basic structure of the ascetic community that emerges is one consisting of a leader and her pupils.64 The absence of specific terminology that would define the figure of authority in the congregation may imply that in the 460s, when Agat‘angełos was ostensibly writing, no structured female ascetic communities were in existence, or if they were still operating, that their organisation varied from place to place. We are also informed that while residing in the vat-stores the virgins earn their living by making and selling glass pearls because they did not have any other source of t‘ošak (wages, stipend): “they lived by their own money from the market in the city. They had no other source of income, save that one of them possessed the skill of glassmaking and could make glass pearls, which paid for their daily sustenance.”65 This reference suggests that the members of early ascetic communities in Armenia sustained themselves either by receiving some stipend, most likely from their families and charity, or they would earn their living by selling something they made in the community. In this case, the mention of glass objects does not seem accidental, for there is ample archaeological evidence confirming the existence and popularity of glassblowing in ancient Armenia.66 Furthermore, the fact that only one of them was 59 For more details on the institution of dayeakut‘iwn in Armenia, see Traina 2004, and Bedrosian 1984. 60 See above n. 51 (Aa §138). 61 Ibid.,  §168: իբրեւ ետես սուրբն Հռիփսիմէ զայն ամենայն ամբոխս չարաց, եւ զոր լուաւն ի դայեկէն [Գայիանէ] իւրմէ՝ վառեցաւ իբրեւ զինու Հոգւոյն զօրութեամբ Տեառն իւրոյ; “when the holy Rhipsime saw all this crowd of evil men

and heard her governess [Gayianē], she was armed with the weapons of the Spirit through the power of her Lord.” 62 Ibid., §201: մայրն մեր եւ գլուխ Գայիանէ; “our mother and leader, Gaiane.” 63 Ibid., §§138, 149, 167. 64 Pogossian 2012, p. 194. 65 Aa §150: կերակրէին ընչիւք իւրեանց ի վաճառաց քաղաքին. եւ ոչ ինչ այլ ինչ


գոյր թոշակ ընդ նոսա զոր ունէին, բայց մի ոմն ի նոցանէ ունէր արուեստ ապակագործութեան՝ առնել ուլունս ապակեղէնս, եւ տալ գինս ընդ կերակրոյ աւուրն պարենի ռոճկի.

For the history of glassmaking in ancient Armenia, see Xač‘atryan 1967. It is worth mentioning that there is much more information on women glassblowers and merchants selling objects from glass in the Roman Empire (see, for instance, Stern 1999, p. 457).


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skilled in a craft suggests that most virgins within the congregation were of noble origin and were not accustomed to manual work. Regarding marriage, Agat‘angełos’ position is not expressed explicitly. However, it is not difficult to observe that marriage which violates the Christian ideals of chastity and which is prompted by a pagan ruler’s lasciviousness is strongly condemned in accordance with the conventions of hagiographic and apocryphal literature. Trdat’s advances to Hṙip‘simē, for instance, are presented as coming from insatiable sexual desire threatening to defile the virgin who has dedicated herself to Christ.67 In contrast to this depiction, the relationship between the already-baptized Trdat and his wife Queen Ašxēn is portrayed in a positive way, betraying the author’s intention to present them as partners who collaborate well for a holy cause.68 To sum up, Agat‘angełos’ representation of female ascetic communities is distinctly positive. The spiritual purity and the untiring perseverance of the virgins in the face of adversity are enthusiastically praised throughout the History. Marriage within a Christian context is also depicted positively, though due to the nature of the text it is not in the foreground. The inconsistences of the narrative urge us to think that convents or enclosures for nuns and believing women must have been destroyed in the aftermath of the Armenian rebellion of 450–451, which is why Agat‘angełos had to rely on his memory and on different other sources in his attempt to describe the community of virgins he claimed to have travelled to Armenia from Rome. In his understanding, these communities were usually established in the vicinity of urban centres, evidently in an enclosed area, and they were funded by the families of the virgins, or they sustained themselves by practising crafts. As for its internal structure, we only know that a senior member of the congregation would instruct younger virgins. The accounts of other fifth-century Armenian authors, as we will see below, appear to concur with this representation. 3.2 Female Asceticism in the Epic Histories The next source that provides valuable, though still fragmentary, information about ascetic communities in early Christian Armenia is the Epic Histories. Different groups of ascetic people, primarily leading an eremitic or peripatetic lifestyle, and their dwelling places are mentioned in this compilation of orally transmitted stories.69 The attitude of the compiler towards them, as seen, for 67 Aa §181. 68 See ibid., §§766, 791, 800, 817, and 832. 69 See Garsoïan’s discussion of each group in EH, pp. 506–507 (anapatawor / anapatakan), p. 540 (kusastan), p. 547 (mianjn / mianjnanoc‘), and pp. 566–567 (van(k‘) / vanakan / vanerayk‘).

The Early Armenian Church and Female Asceticism


example, in the story of the life and acts of the Syrian hermit Daniel, is entirely positive.70 Female ascetic communities are alluded to only once, in episode V.xxxi, which relates how King Pap ordered the destruction of all institutions established by the Armenian patriarch St Nersēs the Great in the second half of the fourth century during his endeavours to reform the Armenian Church.71 The Epic Histories’ portrayal of the physical space that the consecrated virgins occupied is congruous with Agat‘angełos’ account and corroborates some of the conclusions drawn above. According to the anonymous compiler of the histories, after having murdered the patriarch, King Pap began to order openly to the realm the destruction of the asylums-forwidows and for-orphans that Nersēs had built in the various districts, and also the destruction of the walled and fortified dwellings-of-virgins [kusastank‘] in various districts and towns that the same Nersēs had built for them, for the care of their well-kept vows. For the blessed Nersēs had built these dwellings in every district during his lifetime so that all those who were consecrated virgins72 might assemble there in fasting and in prayers, and receive their food from the world and their own families. King Pap ordered to destroy them and ordered the consecrated virgins handed over to foul intercourse.73 70 See EH, III.xiv. 71 For more details on St Nersēs the Great’s reign and reforms, see Garsoïan 1969 and 1983. 72 Garsoïan here concurs with Step‘an Malxasyanc‘ and Norayr Biwzandac‘i’s editorial correction (EH, p. 323, n. 4 in V.xxxi), and does not translate the conjunction ew (and) in the expression kusank‘ ew hawatac‘ealk‘ (the virgins and the believers), although it is found in several manuscripts. As a result, hawatac‘ealk‘ functions as an epithet and literally the phrase means ‘believing virgins’. Pogossian (2012, p. 185), on the other hand, proposes an alternative, and perhaps a more precise reading of the phrase: she keeps the conjunction and renders the phrase as “[consecrated] virgins and believing [women]”. Since both versions are attested in manuscripts it is not easy to decide whether ew is an interpolation. The mention of kusank‘ hawatac‘ealk‘ (in its accusative form) as one phrase in the next sentence seems to imply that we are dealing with one group of women rather than two. Yet, as I argue below, the content of the entire passage suggests that Pogossian’s translation is more accurate. 73 EH, V.xxxi: Իսկ թագագւորն Հայոց Պապ, զի թէպէտ եւ սպան զհայրապետն աշխարհին Հայոց զՆերսէս, սակայն ոչ յագեցաւ մահուամբ նորա, այլ ջանայր այսպէս` թէ զինչ միանգամ կարգք իցեն ուղղութեան ի Ներսիսէ եդեալ յեկեղեցւոջն, եղծեսցէ եւ խանգարեսցէ: Եւ սկսաւ նախանձ վարել ընդդէմ յառաջագոյն կանոնելոցն ի նմանէ. եւ սկսաւ հրաման տալ յայտնապէս յաշխարհին աւերել զայրենոցսն եւ զորբանոցսն` զոր շինեալ էր Ներսէս ի գաւառս գաւառս, եւ աւերել զկուսաստանսն ի գաւառս գաւառս եւ յաւանս յաւանս պարսպեալս եւ ամրացեալս, որ նորին Ներսիսի էր շինեալ վասն ամրապահս առանգոցն զգուշութեան: Քանզի յիւրում կենդանութեան երանելոյն Ներսիսի էր շինեալ. շինեաց զայս կուսաստանս յամենայն գաւառս,


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This brief account confirms that female ascetic communities were situated within urban areas and that they received financial support from the families of the virgins, though public donations as an additional source of funding is also mentioned. Furthermore, it stresses the fact that the physical space allocated to them was an enclosure defended by walls. About their lifestyle we only learn that after having taken vows of abstinence the virgins would dedicate themselves to praying and fasting. Pogossian has underscored an apparent inconsistency in this passage, for it describes a seemingly permanent “walled and fortified” construction, though the consecrated virgins do not appear to reside there continuously but would gather “in fasting and in prayers”.74 On the other hand, she assumes that “the construction of walls and fortifications … would not make sense if the consecrated virgins appeared in the building from time to time only, as opposed to living there permanently”.75 This lack of consistency seems to confirm that there were indeed, as suggested above, two groups of women – the consecrated virgins who resided in the premises of the described buildings, and believing women who attended these establishments, perhaps during religious holidays. The account of Ełišē, as we shall see below, supports this interpretation. The last sentence of the passage mentioning King Pap’s orders to destroy the kusastank‘ and to subject the virgins “to foul intercourse” (i xaṙnakut‘iwn płcut‘ean) should also be discussed. Garsoïan believes that the destruction of these institutions resulted in forcing the virgins into prostitution.76 Nevertheless, Pogossian’s interpretation that the virgins were most likely compelled to marry appears to be more convincing. She points out that the wording used in this passage is reminiscent of Agat‘angełos’ description of Diocletian and Trdat’s attempts to marry Hṙip‘simē, which in its turn was most likely influenced by the Acts of the Apostle Thomas.77 Moreover, we should not forget that most of the virgins were of noble origin and their families would hardly permit prostitution to happen to their women. On the whole, the representation of female ascetic practices in early Christian Armenia according to the Epic Histories is consistent with Agat‘angełos’ slightly earlier account. Both authors seem to have been acquainted with the

74 75 76 77

զի որ միանգամ կուսանք [եւ] հաւատացեալք իցեն` անդր ժողովեսցին ի պահս եւ յաղօթս, եւ կերակրել յաշխարհէ եւ յիւրաքանչիւր ընտանեաց: Զայն աւերել հրամայէր Պապ թագաւորն, եւ զկուսանսն հաւատացեալս տայր հրաման ի խառնակութիւն պղծութեան.

Pogossian 2012, p. 187. Ibid. Garsoïan 2005–2007, p. 209. Pogossian 2012, pp. 188–189 and 209.

The Early Armenian Church and Female Asceticism


same organisational structure of these communities, which strongly resembled the Syrian bnāt qyāmâ. In addition, the Epic Histories hints at the presence of two groups of ascetic women – the consecrated virgins who resided in specially built dwelling-places, and the believing women who would occasionally join the virgins, probably during religious feasts. The attitude of the author towards female ascetic establishments appears to be genuinely sympathetic, especially when describing their destruction. A similar positive view is conveyed in all references to ascetic practices, whereas no juxtaposition to or criticism of the life in marriage is expressed, unless it was non-consensual. 3.3 Female Asceticism in Ełišē’s History Ełišē’s History contains a valuable testimony to the existence of female ascetic institutions in Armenia before the battle of Avarayr. Despite its brevity, it is generally consonant with the descriptions found in the aforementioned sources. What is of great interest in Ełišē’s account is the reference to the special garment worn by ascetic women, which is reminiscent of the bnāt qyāmâ, who were also dressed in distinctive clothes. Ełišē speaks of women who lead an ascetic lifestyle on two occasions. The first mention is within the context of the Persian attack on Armenian ecclesiastical foundations. Amongst the great turmoil, when the magi and the Persian soldiers accompanying them are plundering the treasures of churches, the chief magus pronounces the following words: “Priests shall not be allowed to instruct the people in their own homes, and the believers in Christ, men and women who dwell each in their own monasteries [menanoc‘s], shall change their garments for secular attire.”78 The second allusion is found in virtually the same context when “even the wives of the Lifeguards dared to extinguish the church lamps on Sunday and tear the garments of the nuns [hawatawor kananc‘n].”79 Garsoïan supports Thomson’s alternative translations of the terms which he provides in the footnotes80 and more precisely renders menanoc‘k‘ as

78 Ełišē, p. 103 [52]: Քահանայք մի՛ իշխեսցեն ի տունս իւրեանց ուսուցանել


զժողովուրդս, եւ հաւատացեալքն ի Քրիստոս՝ արք եւ կանայք, որ բնակեալ են յիւրաքանչիւր մենանոցս, փոխեսցեն զհանդերձս իւրեանց ըստ աշխարհական կարգաց. Ibid., p. 115 [65]: յանդգնեցան եւ եւս կանայք փշտիպանացն յաւուր կիւրակէի անցուցանել զճրագունս եկեղեցւոյն եւ պատառել զհանդերձս հաւատաւոր կանանցն.

80 Ibid., pp. 76 [22] n. 12, 103 [52] n. 4, and p. 115 [65] n. 2.


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“hermitages” and hawatawor kanayk‘ as “faithful or consecrated women”,81 though the latter can also be construed as ‘women with faith’ or ‘believing women’. This approach is intended to highlight the eremitic, rather than coenobitic, origins of these institutions.82 Most significantly, the use of ‘faithful’ or ‘believing’ women instead of the general term ‘nuns’ enables us to perceive the difference between this group of women and the consecrated virgins (kusank‘). The first account describes believing women (hawatac‘eal kanayk‘) who dwell in hermitages, separately from men, and wear special clothes by which they are differentiated from the lay population. The wording is generic and it does not allow us to determine the age and marital status of these women. The second reference does not provide any clarification either, though an additional element is added to the overall image: the context suggests that these events were taking place in an urban environment, and the fact that ‘the faithful women’ attended a Sunday mass implies some participation in the life of a wider community. Thus, Ełišē substantiates our previous assumptions about female ascetic institutions in early Christian Armenia and supplies an essential detail regarding the special garments worn by consecrated virgins and believing women. 3.4 Ascetic Practices outside Ascetic Communities The fifth-century texts also contain passages describing women who lead an ascetic lifestyle within the confines of their estates and none of them, as pointed out by Pogossian, lives in a community of ascetics.83 Ełišē and Łazar locate them in their households,84 whereas in the Martyrdom of St Šušanik the protagonist is said to cloister herself in a hut, initially near the church and then in the vicinity of the manor house.85 They are not referred to as kusank‘ or hawatawor kanayk‘: they are women of high social standing who are compelled to renounce earthly pleasures due to exceptional circumstances. Ełišē and Łazar focus on the wives and widows of Armenian nobles in the immediate aftermath of the Battle of Avarayr and in their encomia portray their deprivations by using vocabulary characteristic of texts on ascetic practices. Similar descriptions are found in the account of the martyrdom of Šušanik, who protests against the apostasy of her husband bdeašx Vazgen and dedicates herself to praying and fasting. It must be mentioned, however, 81 82

Garsoïan 2005–2007, pp. 209–210. “The ‘monastic’ vocabulary may seem familiar but not its setting which is altogether eremitical” (ibid., p. 210). 83 Pogossian 2012, p. 199. 84 Ełišē, pp. 244–248 [200–203]; ŁP, p. 161 [109–110]. 85 Muradyan 1996, p. 20 (II) and p. 26 (VI).

The Early Armenian Church and Female Asceticism


that even though the renunciation of earthly pleasures is foregrounded and commended, these narratives yet again do not contain any criticism of conjugal bonds.86 3.4.1 Ełišē’s Description Ełišē’s portrayal of women who bear the consequences of the Armenian revolt is very elaborate and aims to exert a moralising effect on the audience. It comprises a detailed description of women’s everyday routine enhanced by images from the Bible, as well as from patristic and hagiographic literature. Although Ełišē’s initial account of women’s hardships implies that they consciously inflicted all these sufferings upon themselves as a sign of piety and their love of God, he subsequently presents additional information that confirms the existence of objective reasons for such a destitute lifestyle. It appears that the Persian court sanctioned the confiscation of the properties of the naxarars who had rebelled.87 This left their families with virtually no means to sustain themselves, as a result of which they were forced to work and earn their daily bread.88 Ełišē’s choice of words and imagery reveals his objective to glorify the devout lifestyle of the noblewomen. He praises all of them, young and old alike, for they were “clothed with a single virtuous faith”89 and “like laboring men used to peasant tasks they endured the toils of country life, and even more than their husbands accepted and sustained such labors.”90 Their way of life is also favourably compared with that of the solitary monks,91 because they 86 Pogossian 2012, p. 205. 87 Ełišē, p. 245 [201]: անկան կործանեցան ապարանք նոցա, եւ տապալեալ աւերեցան ամուրք ապաստանի նոցա: … Աչօք իւրեանց տեսին զյափշտակութիւն արարոց իւրեանց, եւ ականջօք իւրեանց լուան զչարչարանս վշտից սիրելեաց իւրեանց. առան գանձք իւրեանց յարքունիս, եւ ոչ մնացին ամենեւին զարդք երեսաց իւրեանց; “Their palaces crumbled and fell; the fortresses of their refuge were demol-

ished and razed…. With their own eyes they saw the ravaging of their property; with their own ears they heard the torments and sufferings of their dear ones. Their treasures were confiscated by the court, and there remained no ornaments at all for their faces.” 88 Ibid., p. 247 [202]: Մատամբք իւրեանց վաստակեցին եւ կերակրեցան; “With their own fingers they toiled and sustained themselves”. 89 Ibid., p. 244 [200]: Քանզի եթէ աւագագոյնք էին եւ եթէ մանկագոյնք, զմի առաքինութիւն հաւատոյ զգեցան. 90 Ibid.: իբրեւ մարդք, որ վշտամբերք լեալ իցեն անդստին ի շինական 91

սովորութեանցն, տանջելով վարեալ զկեանս աշխարհիս, անդրագոյնք եւս քան զնոսա յանձն առին զհամբերութիւն վշտաց. Ibid., p. 245 [200]: Շաբաթամուտն ըստ կարգի միայնակեցաց, որ յանապատս բնակեալ են; “The Friday evening [fast] they observed like solitaries who dwell in the



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do not indulge in earthly pleasures and luxury. Alluding to Philo’s De Vita Contemplativa,92 Ełišē further likens them to “bloodless grasshoppers who exist without food by the sweetness of their song and live by merely breathing the air, exhibiting the likeness of the incorporeal beings”.93 As highlighted by Thomson, in the following passage Ełišē relies heavily on biblical allusions94 and describes the onerous daily routine of these women: The delicate women of Armenia … regularly attended the houses of prayer without shoes and on foot, begging with tireless entreaties that they might be able to endure their great tribulation. Those who from their childhood had been raised on the marrow of steers and the dainty parts of game, most joyfully ate grass, living like wild animals and not at all mindful of their accustomed luxury. The skin of their bodies turned black in color, for by day they were burned by the sun, and the whole night they lay on the ground.95 Imagery recurrent in the depiction of ascetics is deployed here and a specific message is presented to the audience. The author unequivocally mentions that abstinence is an effective way for women “to endure their great tribulations”. Likewise, several lines later Ełišē stresses that through ascetic practices women fought against “the gravest sins” and “[b]y their prayers they opened the closed gates of heaven; and by their pious supplications brought down angels for salvation”.96 Hence, not only does Ełišē’s representation of the deprivations which noblewomen experienced extol women’s actions under these adverse circumstances, but it also suggests that abstinence from worldly pleasures is conducive to overcoming sins and attaining eternal salvation.

92 See Thomson’s comment in Ełišē, p. 247 [202] n. 13. 93 Ibid., p. 247 [202]: Անարիւն ճիպռանց նմանեցին, որ երգոյն քաղցրութեամբ առանց կերակրանաց կեան, եւ կենդանի են միայն զօդն ծծելով, զանմարմնոցն բերեն զնմանութիւն.

94 Ibid., p. 246 nn. 7, 9, 12, and 13. 95 Ibid., p. 246 [201]: Տիկնայք փափկասունք Հայոց աշխարհին … հանապազ բոկ եւ


հետի երթային ի տունս աղօթից, անձանձրոյթ խնդրեալ ուխտիւք, զի համբերել կարասցեն մեծի նեղութեանն: Որ ի մանկութենէ իւրեանց սնեալ էին ուղղովք զուարակաց եւ ամճովք էրէոց, խոտաբուտ կենօք իբրեւ զվայրենիս ընդունէին զկերակուրն մեծաւ խնդութեամբ, եւ ոչ յիշէին ամենեւին զսովորական փափկութիւնն: Սեւացեալ ներկան մորթք մարմնոյ նոցա, վասն զի ցերեկ արեւակէզք էին եւ զամենայն գիշերսն գետնաբեկք. Ibid.: մարտ եղեալ կռուեցան ընդ մեղսն կարեւորս … Աղօթիւք բացին զփակեալ դրունս երկնից, եւ սուրբ խնդրուածովք իջուցին զհրեշտակս ի փրկութիւն.

The Early Armenian Church and Female Asceticism


Yet, we should not forget that Ełišē here speaks primarily about married women who, in his view, in the absence of their husbands and sons display exemplary behaviour worthy of true Christians but also appropriate to their status and position in society. Their abstinence is not from their marital responsibilities but from other earthly pleasures in which they were accustomed to indulging. Thus, Ełišē’s point is not to diminish the importance of conjugal bonds but rather to provide his audience with an example of behaviour that righteous Christian women should exhibit. 3.4.2 Łazar’s Description In his encomium Łazar also makes use of the images of ascetic piety to extol the virtue and resilience of Armenian women in the face of adversity. His account is quite brief, without many rhetorical embellishments, and in his approach he is more realistic than Ełišē, for Łazar’s main objective is not to moralise the behaviour of women in this period of privation but rather to portray the devastating effects of the Armenian defeat at Avarayr. Therefore, in contrast to Ełišē, Łazar does not strive to present the destitute conditions of women as a deliberate act of renunciation of worldly pleasures. According to Łazar, the lives of the wives and widows of Armenian nobles changed dramatically: Delicate women, daughters of princes and wives of nobles, would eat millet instead of fine wheat flour, would drink water in moderation instead of pure wine, would wear rough wool instead of silken garments embroidered with gold, would lie on the ground on brushwood instead of in elaborate beds. Those who formerly slept late became sleepless like celestial beings. They did not anoint themselves with perfume, they did not arrange the hair of their heads with combs.97 Similar to Ełišē, Łazar stresses the absence of previous luxuries to which the “delicate women” were accustomed. There are many parallels between this account and the description of analogous deprivations in John Chrysostom’s In Epistulam ad Ephesios (Hom. 13.3): 97 Ibid., p. 161 [109–110]: Կանայք փափուկք, դստերք նախարարացն եւ կանայք աւագաց, փոխանակ նաշհոյ կորեակ ուտէին, եւ փոխանակ պարզ գինւոյ ջուր չափով ըմպէին. Փոխանակ կերպասեայ ոսկէհուռ զգեստուցն խոշոր բրդեայս զգենուին, եւ փոխանակ բազմադիմի անկողնոցն փրիսայիւք ի վերայ երկրի գետնատարածք լինէին. եւ որք յառաջագույն յամրանային ի քուն` նմանեալք վերնոցն անքունք եղեն: Չօծան իւղով, չյարմարեցին սանտրով զհեր գլխոյն իւրեանց …


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Damsels not yet twenty years old, who have spent their whole time in inner chambers, and in a delicate and effeminate mode of life, in inner chambers full of sweet ointments and perfumes, reclining on soft couches, themselves soft in their nature, and rendered yet more tender by their over indulgence, … who wore soft raiment softer than their skin, fine linen and delicate, who reveled continually in roses and such like sweet odors…. These then, these very tender damsels  … have brought themselves to such a degree of severe training, that they will wrap the coarsest horsehair about their own naked bodies, and go with those tender soles unsandaled, and will lie upon a bed of leaves: nay more, that they watch the greater part of the night, and that they take no heed of perfumes nor of any other of their old delights, but will even let their head, once so carefully dressed, go without special care, with the hair just plainly and simply bound up, so as not to fall into unseemliness. And their only meal is in the evening, a meal not even of herbs nor of bread, but of flour and beans and pulse and olives and figs.98 Both extracts focus on virtually the same material goods that women have relinquished, namely delicious food, elegant clothes, warm and comfortable beds, sweet fragrances; they pay no attention to their hair and their carefree nights have turned into vigils. It is highly likely that Łazar was acquainted with Chrysostom’s commentary, but the context in which these accounts are found is distinctly different. In contrast to Łazar, Chrysostom’s primary aim here is, as Clark argues, to “shame men by the examples of ascetic women,”99 for he challenges his male audience by saying, how can it be, when tender damsels surpass us by so great a distance? Let us be ashamed of ourselves, I entreat you; for in worldly matters, to be 98


John Chrysostom 1994, pp. 115–116; John Chrysostom 1862e, PG 62, 98: κόραι εἰκοστὸν ἔτος οὔπω γενόμεναι, ἐν θαλάμοις καὶ ἐν σκιατροφίᾳ τὸν ἅπαντα διατελέσασαι χρόνον, [ἐν] θαλάμοις μύρων γέμουσαι καὶ θυμιαμάτων, ἐπὶ στρωμνῆς ἁπαλῆς κατακείμεναι, ἁπαλαὶ καὶ αὐταὶ τὴν φύσιν, καὶ τῇ πολλῇ θεραπείᾳ μαλακώτεραι γινόμεναι, … ἱμάτια ἔχουσαι μαλακὰ τοῦ σώματος μαλακώτερα, λεπτὰς ὀθόνας καὶ τρυφερὰς, ἐν ῥόδοις καὶ ταῖς τοιαύταις εὐωδίαις διηνεκῶς ἀσχολούμεναι … Ταύτας δὴ τὰς οὕτως ἁπαλὰς κόρας … εἰς τοσαύτην σκληραγωγίαν ἑαυτὰς ἤγαγον, ὡς τὰ τραχύτερα τῶν τριχίνων περιθέσθαι ἑαυτῶν τοῖς σώμασι γεγυμνωμένοις, καὶ ἀνυποδήτους εἶναι τὰς ἁπαλὰς πτέρνας ἐκείνας, καὶ ἐπὶ στιβάδος κατακεῖσθαι· μᾶλλον δὲ τὸ πλέον ἐγρηγορέναι τῆς νυκτὸς, καὶ οὔτε μύρου, οὔτε ἄλλου τινὸς τῶν παλαιῶν πρόνοιαν ποιεῖσθαι, ἀλλὰ καὶ τὴν οὕτω θεραπευομένην κεφαλὴν ἀτημέλητον ἔχειν, ἁπλῶς καὶ εἰκῆ τὰς τρίχας ἐνδεδεμένην, ὥστε μὴ εἰς ἀσχημοσύνην ἐμπεσεῖν. Τράπεζα δὲ αὐταῖς ἐστιν ἑσπερινὴ μόνη, τράπεζα οὐδὲ λαχάνου οὐδὲ ἄρτου, ἀλλὰ σεμίδαλις καὶ κύαμος καὶ ἐρέβινθος, καὶ ἐλαία καὶ σῦκα. Clark 1991, p. 233.

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sure, we in no point yield to them, neither in wars, nor in games; but in the spiritual contest they get the advantage of us …100 Łazar, however, is not concerned with humiliating men: in fact, the sacrifices of Armenian women are put on the same scale as the sufferings of imprisoned nobles, the “sons of light and children of the kingdom”.101 Since it is most probable that both Ełišē and Łazar have drawn on Chrysostom’s commentary, it is particularly notable that the Armenian authors use this imagery to achieve a different effect. 3.4.3 St Šušanik’s Abstinence The descriptions of Šušanik’s passionate devotion to the Christian faith, her tortures, sufferings, and eventual martyrdom form the essential core of the anonymous author’s narrative. As Pogossian mentioned, certain details of this hagiographic text “can give us hints as to the expectations from a high-level wife and attitudes towards her choice of devoting herself to ascetic life within her social environment”.102 When the news about her husband’s, the bdeašx Vazgen’s apostasy reaches her, Šušanik goes into a state of mourning and desolation, which is emphasised at the beginning of the narrative by references to her grief and lamentation.103 Therefore, Šušanik’s initial cloistering herself in a hut, her spending the night in prayer, and refusing to consume any food104 should be perceived as a manifestation of intense sorrow over the spiritual death of her husband and the potential threat that it posed to her children and the entire community of Christians. 100 John Chrysostom 1994, p. 116; John Chrysostom 1862e, PG 62, 99: πῶς γὰρ, ἔνθα κόραι ἁπαλαὶ ἐκ πολλοῦ τοῦ διαστήματος ἡμᾶς παρελαύνουσιν; Αἰσχυνθῶμεν, παρακαλῶ, ὅτι ἐν μὲν τοῖς κοσμικοῖς οὐδαμοῦ παραχωροῦμεν αὐταῖς, οὐκ ἐν πολέμοις, οὐκ ἐν ἄθλοις· ἐν δὲ τοῖς πνευματικοῖς γῶσι πλέον ἡμῶν φέρονται. 101 ŁP, p. 161 [109]: որդիս լուսոյ եւ մանկունս արքայութեան. 102 Pogossian 2012, p. 206. 103 For instance, people who show empathy and compassion to Šušanik are called sgakic‘k‘, ‘fellow mourners’ (Muradyan 1996, p. 20 (II)); she also confirms her state of mourning by saying that due to her husband’s unrighteousness she will “prolong her grief” (յերկարեմ զսուգն); and by asking rhetorically “[w]ho will not lament over the news of such losses?” (Ո՞վ ոչ ողբասցէ զայսքան կորստեան համբաւ, ibid., p. 22 (III)). 104 Ibid., p. 20 (II): Եւ նա [Շուշանիկն] յարուցեալ մտանէր ի տնիկ մի փոքրիկ, որ էր մերձ յեկեղեցին. եւ կայր յաղաւթս առ Աստուած` լալով եւ ողբալով զգիշերն ամենայն եւ ի դառնութենէն անհանգիստ լեալ եւ ոչ ինչ ճաշակեալ; “And she [Šušanik] entered a small hut which was by the church, and by weeping and lamenting throughout the night she stood in prayer to God, and because of bitterness remained restless and ate nothing.”


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For seven years Šušanik was subjected to repeated brutal beatings and torture for her disobedience to her husband’s will, which are described in language characteristic of hagiographic texts. Elements of the imagery associated with an ascetic lifestyle, such as fervent praying and rigorous fasting, are also deployed by the anonymous author. The most important passage in this regard is Šušanik’s prayer in which she draws an analogy between her position and St Hṙip‘simē’s ordeals: You, my God and Lord, father and instructor, do not deprive your maid of your care and mercy. But empower me to complete my course through persecutions105 like my forefathers [did] so that I could share their inheritance in death. And now with you my hope lies, for you saved the holy Hṙip‘simē from the tyranny of the king and shamed that giant-like soldier. Deliver me, the unworthy one, from the tyranny of the apostate, for thine is the victory, and through you I shall be victorious; and thine [is] the glory, for ever. Amen.106 Šušanik identifies herself with Hṙip‘simē, and her apostate husband with the pagan King Trdat. She hopes to receive the same support from God so that she can humble the tyrant. Subsequently in the narrative the audience is informed by an unnamed priest that Šušanik’s expectations are fulfilled, for she managed to defeat her unrighteous husband and to inherit “the name and the spirit”107 like St Hṙip‘simē did.108 The crucial difference between Hṙip‘simē and Šušanik is, nevertheless, the fact that the former is a consecrated virgin, while the latter is a married woman with four children.109 Šušanik clearly understands this discrepancy, for she declares that she is

105 Cf. Acts 14:22: “It is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God.” 106 Muradyan 1996, p. 26 (V): Դու, Աստուած իմ եւ տէր, հայր եւ ուղղիչ, մի՜ թողուր զաղախին քո ի խնամոց քոց եւ յողորմութենէ: Այլ տուր ինձ զաւրութիւն կատարել զընթացս իմ նեղութեամբ` նմանութեամբ հարցն իմոց, զի եւ նոցա մասին հանգստեան ժառանգորդ գտայց: Եւ արդ ի քեզ եմ յուսացեալ, որ զսուրբն Հռիւփսիմէ փրկեցեր ի բռնութենէ թագաւորին եւ յամաւթ արարեր զհսկայազաւրն. եւ զիս` զանարժանս ապրեցո ի բռնութենէ ուրացողին, զի քո է յաղթութիւն եւ քեւ յաղթեցից: Եւ քեզ փառք յաւիտեանս. ամէն.

107 Cf. 1 Cor. 6:11: “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” 108 Muradyan 1996, p. 34 (X): յուսովն Աստծոյ վանեցեր զամբարիշտն եւ զանուն եւ զոգի ժառանգեցեր ըստ նմանութեան սրբոյն Հռի[ւ]փսիմէի. 109 Pogossian 2012, p. 209.

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not worthy of the crowns and blessings of the Saint [Hṙip‘simē], who did not approach an impious man but remained in purity [or holiness] and battling for the sake of purity [or holiness] overcame evil and became the most pure [or the holiest] by [shedding] her pure [or saintly] blood along with her saintly companions.110 Purity (or holiness) appears to be the main attribute of the virginal state. In order to achieve it, Šušanik needs to cleanse herself of the blemish of her marriage “by means of tortures and iron shackles”.111 Indeed, we should not forget that Šušanik speaks of her marriage to an apostate and not about marriage in general, for she laments the fact that she “dwelt with an impious man and gave birth to children who would be wasted and corrupted by the hand of the wicked man”.112 The problem is not marriage itself, but the failure of her husband to live by Christian laws. Another interesting detail of the Martyrdom of St Šušanik related to the topic of this discussion is a reference to the clothes that Šušanik wears while in seclusion. When one of her children dies as a result of an accident, the Georgian magnates visit bdeašx Vazgen to offer their condolences. Probably wishing to demonstrate that everything is under control in his dominions,113 Vazgen orders that Šušanik be removed from her prison and be brought to the house until the magnates’ departure. She obeys the order with joy and presents herself to people dressed in the clothes of a religious person,114 apparently of an ascetic woman. According to the narrator, her appearance and saintly behaviour astonish everyone, though most likely the guests were shocked to see the spouse of bdeašx dressed like an ascetic. Thus, Šušanik’s ‘religious clothes’ remind us of Ełišē’s similar reference and one more time show a resemblance

110 Muradyan 1996, p. 34 (X): Ես ոչ եմ արժանի պսակաց եւ երանութեանց սրբոյն, որ ոչ մերձեցաւ յայր ամբարիշտ, այլ սրբութեամբ կացեալ եւ վասն սրբութեան ընդդիմամարտեալ յաղթեաց չարին եւ սրբագոյն եւս լիներ սուրբ արեամբն իւրով սուրբ ընկերաւքն հանդերձ (Pogossian’s translation, 2012, p. 209). 111 Muradyan 1996, p. 34 (X): ի ձեռն չարչարանաց եւ երկաթի կապանաց սրբեցայ ի մերձաւորութենէ ուրացողին (Pogossian’s translation, 2012, p. 209). For the same

approach, see Muradyan 1996, p. 30 (VII). 112 Ibid., p. 34 (X): Եւ ես բնակեալ ընդ առն ամբարշտի ծնայ որդիս ի կորուստ եւ յապականութիւն ի ձեռն առն ժանտի. See also, Pogossian 2012, p. 210. 113 Ibid., p. 211. 114 Muradyan 1996, p. 30 (VII): Եւ նա խնդութեամբ կատարէր զհրամանն առն ամբարշտի: Եւ նորա երթեալ անդր, զանձն կրաւնաւորական զգեստիւ …; “And she carried out the order of the unrighteous man with joy. And she went there in the dress of a religious person.”


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between the Armenian (and ostensibly the Georgian) ascetic women and the Syrian bnāt qyāmâ. According to Pogossian, Šušanik’s vita clearly demonstrates that “the ‘ascetic option’ was available to women but the social context did not necessarily whole-heartedly support it, and at times could even violently oppose it”.115 I would also add that in Šušanik’s case she was mistreated badly not only for her choice of ascetic lifestyle but primarily for her open and persistent defiance of her husband’s authority.116 3.5 Spiritual Marriage The phenomenon of spiritual marriage, also referred to as syneisaktism, has been attested in a variety of early Christian sources,117 not the least in the works of the Church Fathers, who strongly condemned this practice.118 It involved ascetic women, variably called agapētae, syneisaktoi, or subintroductae, and ascetic men who chose to live a life of continence under the same roof.119 The syneisaktoi have been described as “one of the most fascinating groups of women encountered anywhere in the annals of church history”,120 and have attracted the attention of scholars since the beginning of the twentieth century.121 I have recently addressed the issue of syneisaktism in the medieval Armenian religious tradition122 and here I shall only discuss the points relevant to the present study. There are two mentions of the practice of syneisaktism in fifth-century Armenian texts. One is found in the following remark by Łazar, in which he speaks about syneisaktism as a widespread phenomenon amongst the Syrian Christians: Then the Armenian princes sought from the court a Catholicos for themselves, and king Vṙam gave them a certain Brkišo, a Syrian. He came to Armenia with his compatriots. They lived a dissolute life, having brought 115 Pogossian 2012, p. 212. 116 For more on this, see Chapter 8. 117 See Achelis 1902, pp. vii–viii. According to Achelis (1908, p. 177), “the custom [of syneisaktism] was widespread during the whole of Christian antiquity”, and its traces can still be found “till late in the Middle Ages”. For references to studies covering different geographic areas, see Clark 1977, p. 173, especially, nn. 23–27. 118 See ibid., pp. 171–175. 119 Achelis 1908, p. 177. 120 Clark 1977, p. 171. 121 See, for instance, Achelis 1902, and 1908, pp. 177–180; De Labriolle 1921, pp. 204–225; Reynolds 1968, pp. 547–566; Miller 2005, pp. 117–150. 122 Zakarian 2017.

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wives with them from Syria according to the custom of their land. They did not live in accordance with the holy and unsullied religion that the saintly champion Gregory had established and organised in all the churches of Armenia.123 There is no compelling reason to disagree with Thomson that the women who accompanied the Syrian priests to Armenia should be identified with subintroductae,124 for the word tantiknayk‘, which Łazar uses to characterise these women, besides its primary meaning of the ‘mistress of the house,’ is also found in at least two other texts: in the Armenian version of Eusebius of Caesarea’s Ecclesiastical History, where it renders the phrase syneisaktous gynaikas with the phrase k‘ors tantiknays (literally, ‘sister mistresses of the house’),125 and in the Armenian Book of Laws,126 in a canon condemning syneisaktism.127 Łazar’s stance in this passage accords with the cannon and the views of the Church Fathers, and leaves no doubt that in the fifth century syneisaktism was denounced by the Armenian clergy.128 123 ŁP, p. 61 [26]: Խնդրեցին այնուհետեւ իւրեանց նախարարքն Հայոց յարքունուստ կաթողիկոս, եւ թագաւորն Վռամ ետ նոցա զԲրքիշոյ զոմն անուն, այր յազգէ Ասորւոց. Որ եկեալ յաշխարհն Հայոց իւրովք գաւառակցօք, որք կէին լոյծ կրօնիւք, եկեալք ընդ նմա յԱսորեստանէ, ըստ սովորութեան իւրեանց աշխարհին` տանտիկնօք. եւ ոչ կէին ըստ սուրբ եւ ամբիծ կրօնիցն, զոր եդեալ էր եւ կարգեալ յամենայն եկեղեցիս Հայոց` սրբոյն նահատակին Գրիգորի.

124 Ibid., p. 61, n. 4. 125 The clause “τὰς δὲ συνεισάκτους αὐτοῦ γυναῖκας, ὡς Ἀντιοχεῖς ὀνομάζουσιν” (Eusebius 1932, VII.xxx) is rendered in Armenian as zkanaysn` orpēs Antiok‘ac‘ik‘ koč‘en, k‘ors tantiknays (զկանայսն` որպէս Անտիոքացիք կոչեն, քորս տանտիկնայս (Eusebius 1877, p. 590)). In his quotation Thomson has missed the word k‘ors and instead has “kanaysn tantiknays”. 126 The Book of Laws (Kanonagirk‘) was compiled at the beginning of the eighth century by Catholicos Hovhannes Ōjnec‘i and edited in the tenth-eleventh centuries by a number of authors (Hakobyan 1971, p. vii). See also Mardirossian 2004, pp. 253–281. 127 Thomson refers to a canon which is attributed to Epiphanius of Cyprus (flourished in the fourth century) and was, in fact, added to the original Book of Laws only in the tenth-eleventh centuries (Hakobyan 1971, pp. vii, xviii–xxv). See ibid., p. 62: Եպիսկոպոս կամ երէց կամ սարկաւագ որ տանտիկին ունիցի ի տանն ըստ հեթանոսական սովորութեանց, լուծցին յիրաքանչիւր աշտիճանէ, բայց ի հանւոյ կամ ի մաւրէ կամ ի քերց; “If a bishop or a priest or a deacon following pagan traditions keeps a mis-

tress of the house that is not [his] grandmother, mother or sister, he shall be stripped of all his ranks.” However, as I will discuss below, there is a fifth-century canon (Canon XIV of Šahapivan) also criticising the practice of spiritual marriage. For the etymology of tantikin and more examples of its use, see above pp. 48–50 and Zakarian 2017, pp. 126–127. 128 As highlighted by Clark (1977, p. 173), “[a]t least six church councils of the fourth century, including the famous Council of Nicaea in 325, banned the practice, which must nonetheless have continued to flourish, for decrees were pronounced against it into the early


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Łazar’s dismissal of syneisaktism as “the custom of their land” implies that it arrived in Armenia from Syria.129 It is corroborated by the fact that Łazar refers to the events that occurred after the abolition of Arsacid rule in 428, which coincides with deposition of the Armenian patriarch St Sahak and the transfer of the administration of the patriarchal see to Syrian priests (428–437).130 Therefore, it seems reasonable to assume that within a decade of their successive control of the patriarchate, the Syrian “anti-patriarchs”131 Surmak, Brkišo, and Šmuel practised and most likely encouraged syneisaktism. When Syrian control of the patriarchate was removed, the Armenian Church leaders issued Canon XIV of the Šahapivan Council (444), which attacked syneisaktism as an iniquitous practice of the Messalians:132 Let no bishop, priest, deacon or anyone from amongst the clergy or congregation keep a tantikin woman, as is the custom among the Messalians. But if anyone does, and evidence regarding it emerges, then, irrespective of his position, he shall be stripped of [his rank] and be denounced as unrighteous and as a tax collector, for the Holy Church and the Lord’s Holy Communion welcome the pure in order that the impure be redeemed with the help of the pure.133


130 131 132 133

middle ages.” Moreover, as Clark discusses in the same article, the practice of spiritual marriage was heavily criticised by John Chrysostom, whose works are known to have extended profound influence on the development of Armenian religious thought. It is highly unlikely that Łazar’s account of this event was prompted by the recent developments in the Church of the East, when the Synod of Seleucia-Ctesiphon in 486 validated the marriage of the clergy, “even at the episcopal rank and even in the instance of widowhood” (Harvey 1990, p. 646). What supports this view is the fact that there is no explicit or implicit criticism directed at the marriage of the clergy in Łazar’s History (see below). For details, see Ormanian 1955, pp. 20–21 and, especially, Winkler 1985, pp. 94–109. Oramanian 1955, p. 21. In Armenian the adjective mcłneac‘ (Messalian) became synonymous to “filthy, profane, impious” and was associated with a variety of sects condemned by the Armenian Church (NBHL 2:284). Hakobyan 1964, p. 450: Եպիսկոպոս ոք կամ երէց կամ սարկաւագ կամ ով եւ իցէ ոք ի պաշտաւնէից կամ յուխտէ, տանտիկին կին զոք մի՜ իշխեսցէ ունել, որպէս եւ սովորութիւն է մծղնէից: Ապա եթէ ոք ունիցի եւ վկայութեամբ յայտնեսցեն, ի կարգէն յորում եւ իցէ, մերժեսցի ի բաց եւ համարեալ եղիցի, որպէս զամպարիշտ, որպէս զմաքսաւոր, զի սուրբ եկեղեցի եւ սուրբ խորհուրդ տէրունական զանարատսն ընդունի, զի արատաւորք ի ձեռն անարատիցն փրկեսցին. As we can observe, here, too, the word tantikin followed by kin is used to

refer to a subintroducta.

The Early Armenian Church and Female Asceticism


Defining syneisaktism as the practice of the Messalians concords with Łazar’s attribution of it to the Syrians, for the Messalian movement indeed flourished in Syria and adjacent territories at the beginning of the fifth century despite the efforts of the ecclesiastical authorities to suppress it.134 It seems that the Messalians revived the ancient practice of the spiritual marriage, which was criticised in the works of the fourth-century Syriac fathers.135 There is additional evidence endorsing the view that the practice of syneisaktism had grown in popularity in Armenia not long before the Council of Šahapivan. The first piece of information that should be discussed in this respect is the Armenian translation of the canons of the Council of Nicaea (325 ce), which was made in the first quarter of the fifth century.136 The version of the Armenian text that has reached us is not identical to the extant Greek one.137 In particular, Canon III, which interests us here, has the following notable discrepancy: in its Greek version it condemns syneisaktism, declaring that “[t]he great Synod has stringently forbidden any bishop, presbyter, deacon, or any one of the clergy whatever, to have a subintroducta dwelling with him, except only a mother, or sister, or aunt, or such persons only as are beyond all suspicion.”138 The Armenian canon, however, is an elaboration of 2 Tim. 5.22 instead,139 warning about the peril of ordaining unworthy people. A question arises: was this alteration made by Hovhannes Ōjnec‘i in the eighth century or by another editor before him? I am inclined to believe that the modification was introduced in the initial translation of the canons. The primary reason for this supposition lies in the fact that the Šahapivan Council adopted a canon that denounced syneisaktism a decade or two after the canons of Nicaea had been translated into Armenian: if in 444 the Armenian clergy had the original Nicene Canon III at their disposal, they would hardly consider it essential to dedicate to the same issue one out of the twenty canons that they eventually promulgated. In addition, the 134 See Vööbus 1960, pp. 127–139. 135 Vööbus 1958, pp. 199–200. For a specific example, see Aphrahat, Demonstration VI:4. 136 Koriwn, XIX: Որոց յետ այնորիկ հաստատուն աւրինակաւք աստուածատուր գրոցն եւ բազում շնորհագիր հարց յետ այնր աւանդութեամբք, եւ Նիկիական եւ Եփեսոսական կանոնաւք, գային [թարգմանիչք] երեւելով աշխարհին Հայոց, եւ առաջի դնէին հարցն զբերեալ կտակարանսն եկեղեցւոյ սրբոյ; “Then

they [the translators] came to the land of Armenia, having brought authentic copies of the God-given book and many subsequent traditions of the worthy church fathers, along with the canons of Nicaea and Ephesus, and placed before the fathers the testaments of the Holy Church which they had brought with them.” 137 For details, see Hakobyan 1964, pp. 560–568. 138 “The First Ecumenical Council” 1995, p. 11. 139 Hakobyan 1964, p. 118.


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prologue to the Šahapivan canons, as mentioned earlier, explicitly states that the following canons were to be applied along with the Apostolic and Nicene ones in order to address those local problems and issues, which were not sufficiently covered by the two.140 Thus, at Šahapivan the Armenian clergy did not possess the Nicene Canon III and for that reason they were compelled to add Canon XIV. We may conclude that when, at the beginning of the fifth century, the Nicene canons were translated into Armenian, syneisaktism was a rare or perhaps non-existent practice in the country and it was deemed more practical to substitute its condemnation with the mention of a more burning issue. In the subsequent decades, the rise of the Messalian movement in the region and the active practice of syneisaktism by the Syrian clergy who assumed control over the Armenian patriarchate encouraged the spread of this practice in Armenia. When in 444 the patriarchal throne was returned to the Armenian clergy, the leaders of the church felt obliged to address immediately the issue of spiritual marriage by direct legislative intervention. Nevertheless, while syneisaktism was unequivocally condemned by the Armenian Church, the marriage of the clergy, including the high-ranking priests, received no disapprobation in the works of the fifth-century authors, despite the fact that after the death of the Armenian patriarch St Sahak Part‘ew in 438, the Armenian ecclesiastical authorities sought to make celibacy mandatory for bishops and high-ranking clergy.141 Thus, without a frown of disapproval, Agat‘angełos mentions St Gregory the Illuminator’s marriage, which happened when he was still very young, and his two children, Vrt‘anēs and Aristakēs.142 In a similar neutral tone, Łazar P‘arpec‘i writes about the direct descendants of the same Gregory and of St Sahak.143 He mentions Sahak’s daughter and her children who, after the patriarch’s death, inherited everything he had.144 140 See Introduction, in particular, n. 149. 141 Mardirossian 2004, p. 118. 142 Aa §859: … վասն սրբոյն Գրիգորի, զի յայնժամ յառաջ եւս, մինչ դեռ ի մանկութեան աստիսն էր զինուորութեամբ՝ ամուսնացեալ եւ երկուս որդիս ստացեալ. որոց առաջնոյն անուն ճանաչէր Վրթանէս … եւ երկրորդին՝ Արիստակէս; “… in time

past, when Gregory was still in the flower of his youth and of military age, he had been married and had two sons. The first of these was called Vrt‘anēs … and the second was Aristakēs …”. 143 See ŁP, pp. 73 [37], 88 [50], 90 [51]. 144 Ibid., p. 73 [37]: Եւ վասն զի ոչ գոյր իւր արու որդի, բայց միայն դուստր մի, զոր էր տուեալ կնութեան Համազասպայ տեառն Մամիկոնէից եւ Հայոց սպարապետի, որ ծնաւ ի Համազասպայ երիս արու որդիս, զսուրբն Վարդան եւ զսուրբն Հմայեակ եւ զերանելին Համազասպեան. որոց ետ եւ կնքեաց սուրբ այրն Աստուծոյ Սահակ զստացուածս գեօղից իւրոց եւ ագարակաց, եւ

The Early Armenian Church and Female Asceticism




The attitude of early Christian Armenian authors to female asceticism is invariably positive, but, unlike the Greek and Syriac Church Fathers, the criticism of the institution of marriage is non-existent in their work. Only in exceptional cases when marriage led to an unrighteous lifestyle, or a woman was to marry or remain married to a non-Christian, as is the case with Šušanik, was asceticism presented as a more preferable option than marriage. In the pre-Christian mentality of the Armenian people, fertility was a fundamental concept from both religious and socio-political perspectives;145 therefore, female asceticism failed to appeal to the broad mass of the population, especially the nobility, for in naxarar society women not only ensured the continuation of one’s lineage, but they were also involved in the establishment of political alliances which were indispensable for the survival and welfare of each naxarar family in the region. The latter motive is particularly important considering the great demographic catastrophe in the aftermath of the rebellion of 450–451.146 These are the primary reasons why female ascetic communities did not flourish in Armenia in contrast to men’s monastic orders, which proliferated especially in later periods. որ ինչ միանգամ էր իւր` ետ նոցա ի ժառանգութիւն եւ զաւակի նոցա մինչեւ ցյաւիտեան; “He had no male son but only a daughter, whom he had given in marriage

to Hamazasp, lord of the Mamikonean and sparapet of Armenia. She bore to Hamazasp three sons: saint Vardan, saint Hmayeak, and the blessed Hamazaspean. To these the holy man of God, Sahak, bequeathed his holdings of villages and estates; whatever he possessed he gave in inheritance to them and their offspring for ever.” 145 Pogossian 2012, p. 188. 146 For how demography influenced the conflict between ‘procreation’ and ‘celibacy’ in early Christian societies, see Brown 2008, pp. 5–7.

part 3 Lived Reality

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Women in Society: Spaces, Roles, and Everyday Life 1


Owing to the fifth-century Armenian authors’ preoccupation with the public space and their focus on the political, therefore predominantly male-centred processes, it is challenging to acquire substantial understanding of women’s daily life, the extent of their agency, and the social roles that they held in early Christian Armenia. However, a few snippets of information found in the historical and hagiographical texts enable us to reach some conclusions and extend our knowledge of women’s lived experience in fifth-century Armenia. The early Christian Armenian authors occasionally make passing mention of women’s everyday life, the physical spaces to which they had access, and the social roles that they were assigned to play. In most cases these references are made in a casual manner primarily to provide additional information about the setting where the action takes place; they are included in the narrative to create a more vivid picture of the unfolding events and are not the main focus of the author’s attention. There are, nonetheless, instances when mentions of women’s experiences are found in accounts that openly moralise a certain event or situation. Yet, even in these passages, descriptions pertaining to women’s daily routines play an auxiliary role, for the details invoked are deployed to deliver the main message to their audiences by relying on familiar images and shared knowledge. 2

Physical Spaces

“Men and Women” 2.1 Virtually all fifth-century texts under scrutiny make references to events in which men and women participate together. Taking into account the religious background of the authors one might assume that the phrase “men and women”, found in various declensions and combinations, is a mere literary topos taken from Biblical models,1 and does not necessarily imply the involvement of the entire community in a specific event. The converse, nevertheless, seems more feasible: there are many explicit passages with specific details that refer to 1 Cf., for instance, 1 Chron. 16:3, 2 Chron. 15:13, Esth. 7:4, Acts 22:4.

© David Zakarian, 2021 | doi:10.1163/9789004445031_007


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representatives of the nobility and the commoners, men and women alike, who join together on special occasions, such as a religious ceremony,2 festivity,3 or celebration of a memorable event.4 Furthermore, a closer look at the contexts in which the phrase “men and women” appears enables us to discern several layers of meaning, supporting the view that women indeed participated in social gatherings alongside men. Most commonly the authors present women and men side by side when they describe tumultuous events in the face of which all members of the community are expected to unite. War, funerals, religious oppression, and danger of apostasy are the most common occasions. The first notable example is found in Agat‘angełos’ History, when the author describes the burial of the Hṙip‘simian virgins which, besides the king, his entourage, the noblemen, and the entire army, is also attended by “the queen and the royal princesses and the nobles’ wives and magnates’ daughters.”5 We may observe noblewomen accompanied by male family members who have gathered in a public place to participate in the funeral of Hṙip‘simē and her companions. In two episodes of Ełišē’s History both lay and noble women are seen together in public. Upon hearing the news of the princes’ apostasy, the bishops “urged the populace to assemble – the men and women, peasants and nobles, priests and monks. They exhorted and strengthened them, and made them all soldiers of Christ.”6 Similarly, after the battle of Avarayr, 2 For example, at St Gregory’s sermon and ceremony of baptism of the Armenians in Aa §725: Ժողովեալք յիւրաքանչիւր գաւառաց արք եւ կանայք եւ մանկտի, ահաբեկեալք յահէն զօրութեանց արարչութեանն, լինէին հնազանդեալք եւ ունէին զհաւատս;

“Men, women, and children had gathered from each one’s province, awed at the prodigies of creation, and they submitted and believed.” 3 For instance, ŁP, p. 51 [17]: յորդորեցան բազմութիւնք արանց եւ կանանց ժողովրդոց ի տօնս Փրկչին եւ ի ժողովս մարտիրոսաց; “Crowds of men and women in the congregation were stimulated at the festivals of the Saviour and the commemorations of the martyrs.” 4 When, for example, the blessed Abraham returns to Armenia after many years in exile having helped the imprisoned Armenian princes, he is met by “men and women, the greatest and the least, all the multitude of nobles and peasants”; արք եւ կանայք, մեծամեծք եւ փոքունք, եւ ամենայն բազմութիւն ազատաց եւ շինականաց (Ełišē, p. 235 [190]). 5 Aa §761: Իսկ թագաւորն եւ արքայազունքն ամենայն եւ մեծամեծքն եւ նախարարքն եւ ազատքն եւ զօրքն ամենայն՝ իւրաքանչիւր բերէին իւղս անուշունս եւ խունկս ազնիւս, եւ զգունագոյն նարօտս պատանաց, զմետաքսառէչս ոսկեթելս կերպասուց: Եւ կին թագաւորին եւ օրիորդք թագաւորազունք եւ կանայք պատուականացն եւ մեծամեծացն դստերք՝ բերէին ծիրանիս եւ զոսկեհուռն դիպակն եւ զերկնագոյնն, եւ զսպիտակ իբրեւ զձիւն հանդերձանս սրբոցն. 6 Ełišē, p. 108 [57]: Յայնմ ժամանակի սփռեցան եպիսկոպոսքն յիւրաքանչիւր իշխանութիւնս, եւ առաքեցին զքորեպիսկոպոսս ի գեօղս եւ յագարակս եւ ի բազում ամուրս լեռնային գաւառացն: Դրդեցին ժողովեցին զբազմութիւն արանց

Women in Society: Spaces, Roles, and Everyday Life


Young men and maidens and the whole populace of men and women went out and occupied the safe parts of the desert and the secure places of numerous mountains. They considered it better to live like beasts in caves but in piety, than to live luxuriously in their own houses but in apostasy.7 The intention to moralise these events is not difficult to perceive, but it is equally noticeable that Ełišē wishes to stress the participation of the entire population in the act of defiance against the religious policy of the Sassanids. An interesting shade of meaning of the phrase “men and women” is found in Łazar’s History. The author seems to have a specific agenda in mind, for the phrase is on several occasions accompanied by the words miasin (together), miaban (unanimously) or miabanut‘eamb (in unanimity). These expressions reveal the author’s deliberate intention to emphasise the significance of unity and to demonstrate that men and women join together to affirm, in one way or another, their faith in Christ. Thus, for instance, when foreigners were installed on the throne of the Armenian patriarch, “the greater nobility, all the clergy of the church, and the people, men and women alike, gathered together and bewailed the holy, unspotted, and apostolic teaching that had been sown and promulgated among them by saint Gregory and his descendants.”8 Elsewhere the reader is informed that “men and women in joyful harmony”9 confess their faith in the face of imminent danger of forced conversion to Zoroastrianism.10 There are other examples, too, which follow this same pattern11 and it seems եւ կանանց, շինականաց եւ ազատաց, զքահանայից եւ զմենակեցաց. խրատ եդին, պնդեցին եւ արարին զամենեսեան զինուորս Քրիստոսի. 7 Ibid., p. 176 [124]: երթային երիտասարդք եւ կուսանք եւ ամենայն բազմութիւն արանց եւ կանանց, հասեալ ունէին զամուրս անապատին եւ զանխաբ տեղիս բազում լերանց: Լաւ համարէին զգազանաբար բնակութիւնն աստուածպաշտութեամբ ի քարանձաւս կելոյ, քան ուրացութեամբ փափկանալ յիւրաքանչիւր շինուածս. 8 ŁP, p. 62 [26]: ժողովեալ աւագ սեպուհեացն եւ բովանդակ բազմութեան ուխտին եկեղեցւոյ եւ ժողովրդոց ի միասին արանց եւ կանանց` ողբային զսուրբ եւ զանարատ եւ զառաքելաշնորհ վարդապետութիւնն, զոր սերմանեալ աճեցոյց ի նոսա սուրբն Գրիգորիոս եւ նորին զաւակք (emphasis mine). 9 Ibid., p. 102 [61]: այր եւ կին միաբան խնդալիցք. 10 Ibid., p. 103 [62]: Եւ ասացեալ զամենայն խոստովանութիւն զօրհնութեանն եւ զանիծիցն միաբանութեամբ ամենայն բազմութեանն ի ձայն մեծ արանց եւ կանանց` հնչեաց երկիրն ամենայն ի բարբառոյ զօրացն բազմութեան; “As the

entire host of men and women uttered this unanimous confession of blessing and curses in a loud voice, the whole earth resounded at the clamour of the army.” 11 See ibid., p. 161 [110]: Յորոց խնդրուածս եւ ի վաստակս ի միասին արանց եւ կանանց ամենաողորմն Աստուած հայեցեալ` յիշեաց զնահատակութիւն


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reasonable to assume that in these instances we observe an indirect allusion to customary Armenian beliefs that the two sexes, all the righteous are and should be partners in the struggle against evil forces.12 If we consider the aims of Łazar’s work and the historical context in which he was writing, about half a century after Avarayr and a decade or so after Vahan Mamikonean’s rebellion, it becomes evident that he consciously underscores the importance of the communal and spiritual unity of the entire nation by making a clear reference to the recent heroic past, namely the rebellion of 482–484, when by virtue of a joint effort the Armenians emerged victorious in the struggle for the preservation of their religion. There is no indication that the picture of women standing beside men in public spaces is subversive; on the contrary, this joint participation in public events is presented as a common phenomenon, a norm rather than an exception. These examples demonstrate that the fifth-century male authors express no reservations about the fact that women were able to transcend the boundaries of the household and to contribute to public life in certain situations. Their participation does not receive any negative comment and therefore should be understood as happening in accordance with customary law (awrēnk‘). However, it is still not clear whether all women, irrespective of their age and social status, had this access to the public sphere, or if it was only the prerogative of certain groups. The answer to this question seems to be found in Łazar’s History. 2.2 Women and Their Spaces Łazar P‘arpec‘i provides a vivid and extremely valuable description of spaces that women would normally occupy according to their age and status in the family. When the apostatised naxarars return to their estates, they witness the սրբոյն Վարդանայ եւ զամենայն միաբանելոցն ընդ նմա, եւ զբարեխօսութիւն վկայելոց քահանայիցն Աստուծոյ, շնորհեալ պարգեւեաց դառնալ կապելոցն յաշխարհս Հայոց; “The all-merciful God looked down on the prayers and labour of

these men and women together; recalling the heroism of saint Vardan and of all those united with him and the intercession of the martyred priests of God, he gracefully permitted the prisoners to return to Armenia”; ibid., p. 188 [131]: Եւ էր այնուհետեւ լսել

յամենայն եկեղեցիս Հայաստանեայց աշխարհիս, ի վկայարանս սրբոց, ի տօնս եւ ի ժողովմունս միաբանութեան, ի բերանոյ քահանայիցն եւ միաբան ամենայն ժողովրդոց, յարանց եւ ի կանանց առ հասարակ, թէ « Զի՞նչ բարի, կամ զի՞նչ վայելուչ, այլ բնակել եղբարց ի միասին »; “Then one could hear in all


the churches of Armenia, in the martyria of the saints, during the feasts and reunions of congregations, from the mouths of priests and all the people in unison, men and women together: ‘What is better or finer than for brothers to dwell together?’ ” See the discussion in Chapter 1.

Women in Society: Spaces, Roles, and Everyday Life


members of their household grieving over their renunciation of the Christian faith: “Because of all this, the wives of the great nobles broke into mournful laments, as did the widows in public squares, and the young married women, and the maidens in locked chambers, and the brides in boudoirs.”13 By endeavouring to underscore the pain and desolation of women, Łazar describes them in places where they would normally be found. He thus differentiates three categories of women and places them in three different spaces: the senior female members of the family and the widows are found outside, in the public space, whereas young married women alongside young unmarried virgins – within the confines of the house; finally, the brides, who have recently entered the family, seem to occupy a space in the room specifically allocated to the new couple. It is nevertheless important to establish to what extent this representation of the physical spaces occupied by women is accurate. In Agat‘angełos and the Epic Histories, for instance, senior women (Queen Ašxēn, Xosroviduxt,14 the wives of the naxarars15) and widows (mourning P‘aṙanjem,16 Queen Zarmanduxt17) are indeed seen in the public space. As for “the brides in boudoirs”, they are also attested in Ełišē, who describes their life of privation after Avarayr: “The hangings and bed curtains of the newly married brides became dusty and sooty, spiders’ webs were spun in their nuptial chambers.”18 Moreover, Łazar refers to the brides once more and provides a proper perspective on their position within the new family. It is mentioned in the episode when Vahan Mamikonean receives the edict confirming his appointment as marzpan of Armenia: 13 ŁP, p. 96 [56]: Վասն ամենայնի այսորիկ սուգ առեալ կոծէին կանայք աւագ ազատացն եւ այրիք ի հրապարակս, մանկամարդ առնականայք եւ օրիորդք ի սրահս դռնափակեալս, հարսունք ի սենեակս. The difference between mankamard

aṙnakanayk‘ and harsn is not quite clear but I assume that the latter referred to recently married women, whereas the former to those who were still young but already living in marriage for several years. 14 There is no direct reference to Xosroviduxt’s marital status in Agat‘angełos’ History, but we can assume that when she appears in public, Xosroviduxt is not young anymore (see the storyline of Aa §§18–47, which implies a period of several decades between Xosroviduxt’s father’s murder and Armenia’s Christianisation). In one passage (Aa §800) Agat‘angełos refers to her as oriord mec Xosroviduxt, that is ‘great maiden Xosroviduxt,’ with the epithet mec indicating that Xosroviduxt had a high status in the society, and with the word oriord implying her unmarried state. 15 See above n. 5. 16 EH, IV.xv. 17 Ibid., V.xxxvii–xxxviii. 18 Ełišē, p. 245 [201]: Փոշոտեցան եւ ծխոտեցան սրահակք եւ սրսկապանք նորեկ հարսանց, եւ սարդի ոստայնք ձգեցան ի սենեակս առագաստաց նոցա.


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When the populace in the city heard this, they all rushed in a great hurry to the church – princes and nobles, ostaniks and commoners, men and women, old and young, even brides from their nuptial chambers, forgetting for a while in their joy the modesty of their situation.19 I am inclined to believe that “their situation” here refers to a certain probation period, perhaps to prove one’s fertility, which a recently married woman was to pass in the new family, for a similar practice was still observed in Armenian families in several regions at the beginning of the twentieth century.20 The concept of amawt‘ harsnut‘ean (literally, ‘bridal abashment’) seems to have involved a specific mode of behaviour when the bride was obliged to display modesty and cover her face with a veil in the presence of the members of her husband’s family, being allowed to remove it only after giving birth to a child or children.21 Young married women and young unmarried virgins appear to occupy an intermediate position between these two groups of women, for although the space they are most commonly depicted in is the confines of their house, they sometimes cross the boundary and appear in public. When Ełišē22 and Łazar23 describe the deprivations of noblewomen after the devastating consequences of the battle of Avarayr, both authors locate them, young and old alike, in their estates, whereas Agat‘angełos mentions “magnates’ daughters”24 attending the burial of the Hṙip‘simian virgins. The latter example, as well as our discussion of the use of the phrase “men and women”, suggests that on the occasion of communal events such as funerals or public festivities these women were able to transcend the boundaries of the space they would normally occupy. Łazar seems to have this particular category of women in mind when he mentions the veil covering the faces of women who flirted with men.25 19 ŁP, p. 240 [178]: Եւ լուեալ զայս մարդկանն որ ի քաղաքին էին, գրոհ տուեալ

20 21

առ հասարակ ամենայն մարդոյ, նախարարաց եւ ազատաց, ոստանկաց եւ ռամկաց, արանց եւ կանանց, ծերոց եւ տղայոց, այլ եւ հարսունք անգամ յառագաստաց, մոռացեալ առ վայր մի առ խնդին զամօթ հարսնութեան` դիմեալ ընթանային յեկեղեցին (emphasis mine).

Nahapetyan 2009, p. 81. Ibid. A reference to such a veil is made by Łazar on p. 161 [110]; see n. 25 of the present chapter. 22 Ełišē, pp. 243–244 [199–200]. 23 ŁP, p. 161 [109–110]. 24 There can be little doubt that the author here refers to unmarried virgins, for if they were married, they would be part of their husband’s family. 25 ŁP, p. 161 [110]: ընդ քօղով այսր անդր հայեցողութեան զաչս յածելոյ; “frequent turning of the eyes this way and that from under a veil”.

Women in Society: Spaces, Roles, and Everyday Life


It can be concluded that the hierarchal division of female members of the tohm into three distinct groups implied the existence of limitations upon the spaces to which women had access. The absence of similar categorisation in early Christian texts that could have influenced the discourse of the Armenian authors evinces the pre-Christian and more ancient roots of this phenomenon in Armenia, which was perpetuated through customary practice into Christian times. 3

Women as Educators

The prevailing attitude of the Greek Church Fathers towards women who taught or preached was distinctly negative. The justification for this was usually found in the scriptures, in the narrative of the Fall of Man, in 1 Tim. 2:11–12,26 or in the fact that Christ had not commanded women to teach. John Chrysostom, for example, in his Discourse 4 on Genesis 1 insists on women’s secondariness and inferior position to men by citing Paul: Listen to how Paul speaks of this subjection, so that you may again be instructed on the agreement of the Old and the New Testaments. Paul says, “Let the woman learn in silence, in all subjection.” Do you see how he, too, submits the woman to the man? Hold on, and you will hear the reason. Why does Paul say, “in all subjection”? He asserts, “I do not permit a woman to teach a man.” Why not? Because she taught Adam once and for all, and taught him badly.27



“Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent”; Կին մարդ՝ ցածութեա՛մբ ուսցի՛, ամենայն հնազանդութեամբ։ Այլ ուսուցանել կնոջ մարդոյ ո՛չ հրամայեմ, և ո՛չ ճոխաբան լինել քան զայր մարդ. այլ ի լռութեան կալ.

Miller 2005, p. 30; John Chrysostom 1862b, PG 54, 594: Ἄκουσον πῶς καὶ Παῦλος περὶ ταύτης λέγει τῆς ὑποταγῆς, ἵνα μάθῃς πάλιν Παλαιᾶς καὶ Καινῆς τὴν συμφωνίαν. Γυνὴ, φησὶν, ἐν ἡσυχίᾳ μανθανέτω ἐν πάσῃ ὑποταγῇ. Εἶδες καὶ αὐτὸν ὑποτάξαντα τῷ ἀνδρὶ τὴν γυναῖκα; Ἀλλ’ ἀνάμεινον, καὶ τὴν αἰτίαν ἀκούσῃ. Διὰ τί, Ἐν πάσῃ ὑποταγῇ; Γυναῖκα γὰρ, φησὶ, διδάσκειν οὐκ ἐπιτρέπω. Διὰ τί; Ἐδίδαξε γὰρ ἅπαξ κακῶς τὸν Ἀδάμ. Οὐδὲ αὐθεντεῖν τοῦ ἀνδρός. See also Didascalia Apostolorum 3.6: “It is neither right nor necessary therefore that women should be teachers, and especially concerning the name of Christ and the redemption of his passion. For you have not been appointed to this, O women, and especially widows, that you should teach, but that you should pray and entreat the Lord God…. For if it were required that women should teach, our Master himself would have commanded these [the three Marys] to give instructions with us [the apostles]” (Miller 2005, p. 31).


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Strict restrictions, however, seem to have been imposed only on women in the public sphere and referred to preaching rather than teaching in general,28 for certain references to women teaching within the confines of a monastery29 or through private conversations30 have also reached us. As compared to the Greek Fathers, in Syriac Christian tradition there are references to women through whom religious teaching was spread. A panegyric homily dedicated to St Ephrem composed by Jacob of Serug (ca 449–521) and the sixth-century anonymous Vita Ephraemi describe ladies’ choirs which instructed the congregation of believers by singing “a variety of hymnography: doctrinal hymns (madrashe), antiphons (‘ounyatha), and other kinds of songs (seblatha and qinyatha)”.31 According to the Vita Ephraemi these women were from amongst the Daughters of the Covenant (bnāt qyāmâ), “whom Ephrem convened for the morning and evening services in the church at Edessa and at the memorial services of saints and martyrs”.32 This evidence suggests that the audience for which the bnāt qyāmâ sang was quite wide, including members of all social layers. Furthermore, according to the Syriac Didascalia Apostolorum the deaconesses were also entitled to teach.33 This would normally occur after the baptism of women whom the deaconess would anoint.34 In contrast to the Daughters of the Covenant, however, the deaconesses appear to have been allowed to teach only women.35 Within this context the stance of early Christian Armenian authors on women who taught and preached is distinctly more positive. The teaching of children in particular is presented as one of the most important social functions that women performed. In addition, women preaching in public, as seen in the Christianisation narratives, were not frowned upon either. Since there is 28 Origen of Alexandria’s following remark appears to reflect a widespread belief among the leaders of the church: “’It is shameful for a woman to speak in church’ [1 Cor. 14:35], whatever she says, even if she says something excellent or holy, because it comes from the mouth of a woman” (Miller 2005, p. 29). 29 See, for instance, the Life of Melania the Younger (Gerontius 1962, 42–48, pp. 206–218). 30 A notable example is found in Gregory of Nyssa’s biographical remarks about his sister Macrina in “Dialogus de anima et resurrectione” (Gregory of Nyssa 1863a, PG 46, 11–160) and “Vita Sanctae Macrinae” (Gregory of Nyssa 1863c, PG 46, 959–1000), though several scholars have challenged the idea that in these texts we hear Macrina’s authentic voice (see Clark 1998b, pp. 26–30, and n.61 of this chapter). See also Brown 2008, pp. 277–279. 31 Harvey 2005, pp. 133–134. 32 Ibid., p. 133. 33 Brock 1996, p. 206. 34 Ibid. 35 Harvey 2005, p. 130.

Women in Society: Spaces, Roles, and Everyday Life


no evidence suggesting that such an approach was prompted by Christian influence, I shall once again suggest that it has roots in the pre-Christian culture and customary practices of the Armenians. A clear division of social roles in Zoroastrian Armenia, where men’s main occupations were hunting and participation in military campaigns, and where women were in charge of the household, presupposed that women spent more time with their children. These habits persisted into the Christian period. Several passages in the early Christian Armenian literary tradition, as noted by Pogossian, bespeak mothers’ involvement in the education of their children and, more specifically, their pivotal role in transmitting Christian beliefs.36 In this section some of the sources to which Pogossian has drawn our attention will be discussed in more detail and additional evidence that supports Pogossian’s conclusion will be provided. The symbolic authorisation to teach and preach is given in Agat‘angełos’ Teaching by St Gregory: “Not only by men, but also by holy women the gospel of life was preached throughout the whole world. For women also were blessed on account of the virgin birth which was from among them.”37 These words pronounced by one of the most prominent figures of Armenian Christianity appear to be the response of the Armenian clergy to early Christian authors insisting that women must not preach. Although other Armenian texts do not directly refer to this passage, their authors clearly feel contented to describe women’s participation in providing religious education. One of the most important sources on this issue is Łazar P‘arpec‘i’s History and his Letter. These texts mention the names of two women from the noble Arcruni family: Juik, the mother of Vahan Mamikonean, and his aunt Anušvṙam, Juik’s sister. Juik was the widow of Hmayeak Mamikonean, the brother of St Vardan, who also perished during the 450–451 rebellion, while Anušvṙam was the wife of the Georgian prince Ašušay. After Ašušay rescues her children from Persian captivity,38 Juik joins her sister’s family and at Ašušay’s court raises her three sons Vahan, Vasak, and Artašēs, while her youngest son, Vard, for an unspecified reason remains in the province of Tayk‘ with his tutors.39 Both women play modest roles in the structure of the entire narrative, for their 36 Pogossian 2003, pp. 373–375. 37 Aa §684: Զի ոչ միայն ի ձեռն արանց, այլ եւ ի ձեռն կանանց սրբոց քարոզեցաւ Աւետարանն կենդանութեան ընդ տիեզերս ամենայն. զի եւ կանայք օրհնեցան վասն կուսանին ծննդեանն որ ի նոցանէն. As mentioned earlier (Chapter 2), in the

other Christianisation narrative Sanduxt is also found preaching the word of God to the masses. 38 ŁP, p. 158 [107]. 39 Ibid., p. 163 [111].


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agency is confined to the domestic sphere and has no direct influence on the masculine world of politics in which Łazar is particularly interested. Their representation, nevertheless, bears remarkable testimony to the duty of noblewomen in fifth-century Armenia to provide education to the young members of family. After the disastrous effects of the battle of Avarayr most noble families were left without a tanutēr or other senior male family member. As a consequence, the tantiknayk‘, the senior women of each family, temporarily assumed additional responsibilities until the legitimate heirs came of age.40 In this respect, the passage in which Juik and Anušvṙam are introduced is highly revealing, for it highlights the contribution of women to the instruction of the young: The sons of those martyred with saint Vardan, of the same Mamikonean family or of the Kamsarakan family or of other clans, were still in their youth. They were instructed and taught and educated with great solicitude by the wives of the martyrs and of the prisoners at court, despite their tribulation. These were not carefree and frivolous women but like brave men they took care of the whole education of these children in useful and noble accomplishments. The most notable was the wife of the martyr Hmayeak Mamikonean, brother of saint Vardan, who was a renowned woman and the most virtuous and the wisest of all the women in Armenia. She raised and educated her own sons in Georgia, in the house of Ašušay, the bdeašx of Georgia. These were the ones that Ašušay, bdeašx of Georgia, had requested from Yazkert king of Persia, as we described above, and had restored to their mother, whose name was Juik. For Ašušay, bdeašx of Georgia, had married Juik’s sister, who was called Anušvṙam. So her children were brought up and educated here, made great progress, and became famous.41 40

A similar pattern when the wife assumes additional authority in the absence of her husband is observed in the case of Queen P‘aṙanjem (see below Chapter 7). 41 ŁP, pp. 162–163 [110–111]: Եւ զմնացեալ դեռեւս ի տղայութեան հասակի զորդիս նահատակելոցն ընդ սրբոյն Վարդանայ, որք ի նոյն տոհմէ Մամիկոնէիցն էին եւ կամ որք ի տոհմէ Կամսարականացն եւ կամ յայլ ազգաց, կանայք նահատակելոցն արանց եւ կապելոց ի դրանն, թէպէտ եւ ի նեղութեան էին, սակայն ուսուցեալ եւ բազում հոգողութեամբ ուսուցանել տուեալ եւ խրատեալ` ոչ իբրեւ զանփոյթս եւ զանպիտան կանայս, այլ իբրեւ զքաջայրս` զառաջիկայ զօգտաբեր շքեղաբար հրահանգս մանկանցն հոգացեալ լնուին: Եւ մանաւանդ կին նահատակին Հմայեկայ Մամիկոնէի եղբօր սրբոյն Վարդանայ, որ եղեւ կին անուանի եւ առաւելեալ ամենայն լաւ եւ մտաւոր մասամբք յամենայն կանայս ի Հայաստան աշխարհիս. որ սնոյն եւ խրատեաց զորդիսն իւր յաշխարհին Վրաց, ի տան Աշուշայի Վրաց բդեշխի, զորս բդեշխն

Women in Society: Spaces, Roles, and Everyday Life


Łazar explicitly mentions that noblewomen were personally in charge of teaching some unspecified subjects (usuc‘eal, xrateal), but they also hired tutors42 for the remaining ones (usuc‘anel tueal). Even though from this passage it is unclear what the “whole education” consisted of, it is reasonable to surmise that it was all-round education which included, inter alia, moral and religious edification along with thorough military preparation.43 This supposition is supported by a section of the Letter in which Łazar describes representatives of the Armenian nobility in this way: “These three men had a common upbringing and education, spiritually and physically, and a knowledge of the orthodox faith from your blessed mother and your lordship.”44 As we can see, in addition to mentioning the spiritual and physical aspects of education, the narrator once again highlights the participation of the Mamikonean tantikin in the process of religious edification of the noblemen. Furthermore, Łazar informs us that when the Armenian naxarars feigned apostasy at the court of Yazkert, the Persian king and his entourage “commanded that in the three lands [Armenia, Georgia, and Albania] schools of Վրաց Աշուշայ խնդրեաց պարգեւս ի յարքայէն Պարսից Յազկերտէ, ըստ առաջագրելոցն կարգի, եւ ածեալ ետ ցմայրն իւրեանց, որում անուն էր Ձուիկ. վասն զի զքոյրն Ձըւկայ ունէր ի կնութեան բդեշխն Վրաց Աշուշայ, որում անուն էր Անուշվռամ: Եւ սնուցեալ անդ մանկունքն եւ ուսեալ` յառաջադէմք էին յամենայնի եւ հռչակաւորք. There is a reference to the same events in the

Letter (ibid., p. 250 [188]), where Łazar again extols the contributions made by Juik and Anušvṙam in the education of children, amongst whom was Łazar himself: սնուցանէ մայրն ձեր օրհնեալ եւ Անուշ-Վռամ ըստ իւրեանց հոգեսիրութեանն եւ զմեզ ընդ ձեզ` որպէս եւ զձեզ; “your blessed mother … and Anuš-Vṙam in their devotion

raised me with you and in the same fashion.” Why Łazar was amongst the children of the nobility, not being of high birth himself, is not clear, but this reference may indicate that there was some kind of educational establishment within the confines of the fortress which was run by the noblewomen of the household. 42 That is դայեակ or դաստիարակ; see, for instance, ibid., p. 95 [56]. See also above Chapter 4. 43 In this respect, the late Sasanian text “King Husrav and his Boy” (Unvala 1921; see also above Chapter 2, n. 20) is of great interest, for it supplies fine details about the type of education that noblemen received in Iranian society. The boy claims that he has been instructed in religious texts, literature, history, and rhetoric (Unvala 1921, §§9–10), he has practised military skills (§§11–12), played musical instruments (§13), he has studied astrology (§14), chess and other board games (§15); he also demonstrates excellent knowledge of gastronomy (§§20–59) and so on. Due to the long-standing cultural ties between the Armenian and Persian nobility (see Chapter 1), it is likely that the system of education in Armenia had a similar structure, though a further investigation into this is required. 44 ŁP, p. 257 [195]: Եւ ունին երեքեան արքդ զամենայն սննդեան եւ խրատու մասն եւ զհրահանգ հոգեպէս եւ մարմնապէս, զծանօթութիւնս ուղղափառ հաւատոյ` յօրհնելոյ ի մօրէն քումմէ եւ ի քէն ի տեառնէ (emphasis mine).


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deceit be established and that everyone equally, men and women, be instructed in the teaching of the magi.”45 To this account Ełišē adds that the Persian officials banned priests from entering the households and instructing people,46 which may refer to the way women, and others in the household, would normally be educated. However, in Armenia “the nobles’ wives, whom the magi had expected to instruct, abhorred even to set eyes on them and firmly commanded tutors never to let their sons or daughters come near them.”47 These excerpts clearly demonstrate that women had access to religious education and that they personally oversaw the instruction their children received. It is also worth stressing that Łazar’s emphatic language reveals a certain degree of authority exercised by these women in their households; the hostile welcome extended to apostatised naxarars was the result of their agency.48 Other passages, too, point to women’s association with religious practices in which the minors also participated. In the words attributed to Yazkert, for 45 Ibid., p. 93 [54]: [թագաւորն Պարսից եւ ամենայն մեծամեծք դրանն եւ մոգք] պատուէր տային` յերեսին յաշխարհսն [ի Հայս, ի Վիրս եւ յԱղուանս] կարգել զխաբէութեան դպրոցս եւ ուսուցանել առ հասարակ զբնաւս, զարս եւ զկանայս, զուսմունս մոգուցն. The same is attested by Ełišē (p. 103 [52]), according to whom the

chief-magus pronounces the orders of the king in front of his people, saying that “the wives of the [Armenian] princes shall receive the magi’s instruction. Sons and daughters of the nobility and peasantry shall study the precepts of these same magi”; կանայք նախարարացն կալցին զուսումն վարդապետութեան մոգացն: Ուստերք եւ դստերք ազատաց եւ շինականաց կրթեսցին ի հրահանգս նոցուն մոգաց. 46 Ibid., p. 103 [52]: Քահանայք մի՛ իշխեսցեն ի տունս իւրեանց ուսուցանել զժողովուրդս …; “Priests shall not be allowed to instruct the people in their own homes …” 47 ŁP, p. 101 [60]: կանայք նախարարացն, զորս կարծէին մոգքն աշակերտել` այնք եւ տեսանել անգամ գարշէին զնոսա, այլ զորդիս իւրեանց եւ զդստերս` պատուիրէին ստէպ դաստիարակացն` չանցուցանել երբէք առ նոքօք մօտ. 48 There are two other episodes that support this conclusion. First, when the apostatised naxarars entered their households, their children fled from them “in consternation, thinking them transformed; and not seeing the familiar figures they were terrified. Looking steadfastly at the faces of their mothers, they saw them to be continually wailing and shedding torrents of tears”; տղայք անձկոտք ի գրկաց հարց իւրեանց պակուցեալք փախչէին, կարծելով այլափոխեալս իմն, եւ ոչ զնոյնս նկատելով կերպարանս` զարհուրէին, ստէպ հայելով յերեսս մարցն, զորս տեսանէին կողկողագինս միշտ եւ արտօսրաբուղխս. յաղագս որոյ եւ ինքեանք յարտասուս հարեալ տղայքն … (ibid., p. 95 [56]). The boys subvert their fathers’ authority by avoiding them,

and require reassurance from their mothers. In addition to this, everyone refuses to share food with the apostatised tanutēr: “neither wife nor child, nor free-man, serf, or servant”; ոչ կին, ոչ որդի, ոչ ազատ, ոչ ծառայ ոք եւ ոչ սպասաւորք (ibid., p. 96 [56]), which implies a general revolt in the household most likely prompted by the tantikin.

Women in Society: Spaces, Roles, and Everyday Life


instance, the king warns his soldiers to execute the Armenian priests in a place where their bodies will not be found, for those who belong to the erring sect of the Christians … say about the bones of those who die for their god, that if anyone has in his house even a small fragment of them no harm or evil machination touches him or his house or his dear ones…. their wives, sons, and daughters, when brought by anyone ornaments of gold, silver, or pearls, if the smallest piece of these dead men’s bones is given them, think this to be the most estimable and precious…. The wives of these Christians think nothing of taking off and giving away the ornaments of their fathers and mothers made with great labour in their memory, necklaces or strings of very valuable pearls, in order to buy fragments of such people’s bones.49 The “wives, sons, and daughters” who display enormous devotion to the relics of Christian saints are mentioned here as one category of people within the naxarar household.50 The devoutness of women is especially stressed, and the fact of their involvement with children’s edification suggests that women would endeavour to instil religious values into their children. In the Epic Histories, as pointed out by Pogossian,51 there is an episode which also suggests the involvement of mothers in the religious education of their children. For the medieval compiler of the histories there is only one explanation of King Pap’s iniquitous behaviour: “unrighteous” P‘aṙanjem, Pap’s mother, is accused of consecrating him to the forces of evil, “and so he was 49 Ibid., p. 135 [88]: որք ի մոլար աղանդն են քրիստոնէից … ասեն, թէ ոսկերք այնոցիկ, որք յաղագս Աստուծոյն իւրեանց մեռանին, եւ որ ոք, ասէ, յիւրում տանն ունիցի ինչ անտի, թէ եւ փոքր խրխոր ինչ ունի` ի վատ ինչ եւ խորամանկ ի նա եւ ի նորա տունս եւ ի սիրելիս ոչ մերձենայ: … կանայք նոցա, ուստերք եւ դստերք, եւ զզարդս ոսկւոյ եւ արծաթոյ եւ մարգարտոյ տարեալք ուրուք նոցա, թէ կարի փոքր ինչ յոսկերաց այնր մեռելոց տայր նոցա` զայն մեծարգոյ եւ պատուական համարին: … եւ զհարց եւ զմարց զարդս, զոր յանուն նոցա արարեալ է մեծաւ աշխատութեամբ, ճիտակս եւ կամ զտակս ինչ մարգարտոյ կարի մեծագնոյ` կանայք քրիստոնէիցդ չհամարին ինչ հանել յանձանց եւ տալ եւ գնել փխրանս ինչ յոսկերաց այնպիսեացն. Such an attitude of non-Christians

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to the cult of saints and their bones is widely attested in other contemporary sources, too (see Brown 1981, pp. 6–9). As mentioned in Chapter 1, in Armenian society, like in that of the Sasanians, women and minors were considered as one category, which was legally subordinate to the adult male members of the family. Pogossian 2003, p. 374.


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filled with dews from childhood.”52 The ‘consecration’ here seems to refer to the upbringing of Pap, in which P‘aṙanjem must have had an active participation. Another example comes from the Martyrdom of St Šušanik. When the son of bdeašx Ašušay, Vazgen, returns from Persia to Georgia after having apostatised and adopted Zoroastrianism, his wife Šušanik repudiates his renunciation of the Christian faith and “after many laments and groans” she goes “to the church taking with her her children, for she had three sons and one daughter.”53 Šušanik falls on her knees in front of the altar and prays for the salvation of her children from the hands of the apostate.54 Although this evidence is circumstantial and no direct reference to teaching is made, this passage paints a picture of familial worship in which the children accompany their mother into the church. Taking into account all the aforementioned examples, this excerpt appears to represent a common rather than an isolated practice.55 The last example that should be discussed in this respect comes from Ełišē’s History. To describe the tribulations of Armenian women after the battle of Avarayr, the fifth-century cleric uses an unusual simile by comparing the current lifestyle of Armenian women to the death of the martyrs: “The wives of the prisoners willingly chained the desires of the flesh and shared the torments of the holy prisoners; in their lifetimes they resembled the valiant martyrs in their death …” This latter circumstance authorises them to become “consoling teachers for the imprisoned.”56 Despite the presence of hagiographic topoi in 52 EH, V.xxii: ձօնեաց զնա դիւաց անօրէն մայրն Փառանձեմ, եւ վասն այնորիկ լի էր դիւօք ի տղայութենէ իւրմէ. The same information is found earlier in EH IV.xliv. 53 Muradyan 1996, p. 18 (II): յետ բազում ողբոց եւ հառաչանաց յարուցեալ երթայր յեկեղեցին եւ զորդիսն ընդ իւր տանէր, զի էին նորա որդիք երեք եւ դուստր մի. 54 Ibid., pp. 18–20 (II). 55 It is worth noting that there is a piece of evidence supporting our argument in the Syriac Life of Peter the Iberian, attributed to John Rufus, an anti-Chalcedonian cleric (Horn and Phenix 2008, pp. lviii–lxiii), who was Łazar’s contemporary. The description of Peter’s childhood years vouchsafes remarkable details about the education he received in Georgia, which socially and culturally shared many common elements with Armenia. Rufus writes that “[i]t was a holy and famous woman, whose name was Zuzo, who raised Peter” (p. 11 (§9)). Zuzo’s piety is corroborated by the description of her habit to pray at night (p. 21 (§17)). Peter was nurtured and educated by Zuzo and her husband Khuranios together with their own children, and Rufus is convinced that besides Peter’s noble and virtuous ancestry, his “holy root”, it was the upbringing of his “God-fearing foster-parents” that set Peter on the path of righteousness (p. 23 (§20)). Thus, Rufus’ portrayal of Peter’s early years of life is consistent with the narratives of Armenian authors about raising children. 56 Ełišē, p. 247 [202]: Իսկ կանայք կապելոցն կամօք կապեցին զմարմնաւոր ցանկութիւնս, եւ եղեն կցորդ չարչարանաց սուրբ կապելոցն. ի կեանս իւրեանց նմանեցին քաջ նահատակացն մահուամբ, եւ ի հեռաստանէ եղեն վարդապետք մխիթարիչք բանտարգելեացն.

Women in Society: Spaces, Roles, and Everyday Life


this account, the use of the word vardapet (teacher) in connection with women is compelling in itself, for vardapet was an honorary title in the church, primarily referring to a priest with an excellent theological education that entitled him to teach.57 Ełišē’s characterisation of women by this title, which was to become solely men’s prerogative in the subsequent centuries, is in agreement with our earlier observations. In Armenian, vardapet was primarily used to render the Greek διδάσκαλος: for example, in Matt. 9:11,58 in which it refers to Christ.59 In patristic literature, some women saints are also deemed worthy of this title: for instance, in the fourth century, Gregory of Nyssa, whose works were among the earliest texts translated into Armenian,60 calls his sister Macrina διδάσκαλος in two of his works. Gregory presents Macrina as an authoritative figure who elaborates on various theological and eschatological issues.61 Likewise, in the fifth-century Life of Melania the Younger Gerontius refers to Melania as θεόπνευστον διδάσκαλον62 (divinely inspired teacher), describing how she instructed and taught both women and men.63 In the Syriac tradition, too, there are women who receive the honorary title of malpānithâ (teacher), the feminine form of malpānâ, which was applied to such prominent figures of Syriac Christianity as St Ephrem and Jacob of Serug.64 It is important to mention that malpānâ was “one of the most revered titles in Syriac tradition, indicating not only the teaching of the Syriac language, but further, its proper (doctrinal) understanding”.65 Jacob of Serug employs the term malpānyāthâ to refer to members of the women’s choirs mentioned above, thus stressing their significant role in the community.

57 Ačaṙyan 1971–1979, 4:319; see also Thomson 1962, p. 367. 58 Իբրև տեսին փարիսեցիքն՝ ասեն ցաշակերտս նորա. Ընդէ՞ր ընդ մաքսաւորս և ընդ մեղաւորս ուտէ վարդապետն ձեր; “When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’” 59 For other uses, see Thomson 1962, pp. 369–370. 60 Thomson 1975, p. 464. 61 Gregory of Nyssa 1863a, PG 46, 11–160 and 1863c, PG 46, 959–1000. For Patricia WilsonKastner (1979, p. 105) Gregory portrays Macrina “as the ideal Christian teacher and philosopher, seeking God with her whole heart and mind”. Elizabeth Clark (2004, p. 179), however, believes that Macrina’s character is merely “a tool with which Gregory can reflect on various troubling intellectual and theological problems of his day”. 62 Gerontius 1962, 64, p. 256. 63 Ibid., 54, pp. 232–234. 64 Payne Smith 1903, p. 278. 65 Harvey 2005, p. 133.

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Glimpses of Everyday Life

The encomia of Ełišē and Łazar dedicated to the wives and daughters of the naxarar families provide unique insights into the everyday life of noblewomen in fifth-century Armenia. Ełišē’s praise is considerably longer than Łazar’s but they share the same argument as far as the women are concerned. In the aftermath of the defeat at Avarayr many naxarar families were left without their leading members, for they either perished on the battlefield or were taken to Persia as captives. Their wives and daughters witnessed the country’s devastation and had to experience severe deprivation,66 during which they displayed high moral qualities and exemplary behaviour. The enumeration of the amenities they lost and the mention of practices they had to abandon enable us to reconstruct certain aspects of noblewomen’s common habits and practices before the rebellion. The representation of women’s tribulations contains two layers of narrative – hagiographic and factual, which are intertwined in such a way that it is not easy to differentiate between them. The authors describe women and their experience in terms that were commonly used in hagiographic texts, but at the same time they provide relevant information about women’s everyday life. If we read beyond this rhetorically embellished depiction, we may establish intriguing details of women’s everyday life and catch a glimpse of the reality on the ground, particularly in the domestic sphere which commonly remained in the dark. In the initial part of the encomium Ełišē’s account sounds quite realistic: by the frequent use of negative words and particles Ełišē emphasises the lack of common luxuries to which the women were accustomed. For although they each had their domestic servants, none could be distinguished among them as being mistress or maid…. They had no confectioners for individual delicacies nor separate bakers to serve them in accordance with their noble rank, but they shared all they had…. No one poured water over another’s hands; the younger did not offer the older 66

Evidence suggests that the standards of living indeed deteriorated after the revolt. Besides the account of the impoverishment of the naxarar estates, both Ełišē (p. 234 [188]) and Łazar (pp. 156–157 [106]) stress the importance of Abraham the priest’s charitable activity in Northern Mesopotamia, by which he endeavoured to support financially the imprisoned Armenian nobles. In order to raise funds, Abraham does not turn to their families but instead for twelve years he has to rely on the donations provided by the local Christian population.

Women in Society: Spaces, Roles, and Everyday Life


towels. The delicate women did not use soap, nor were they offered oil for merry feasting. Immaculate dishes were not set before them, nor plates for jollity. No butler stood at their door, and no illustrious men were invited to their homes…. the vessels for their banquets were broken…. Their flower gardens dried up and turned to sand; the wine-bearing stocks of their vineyards were uprooted.67 This passage amply shows that within the household there was a specific hierarchy which included not only mistress – servant relationships, but also a clear ranking and distribution of responsibilities among the noblewomen depending on the age and perhaps status in the family. Noblewomen, as one would expect, were attended by a group of servants who carried out a variety of domestic chores. One form of entertainment that they enjoyed was the visits of prominent men, which were most likely accompanied by banquets in their honour. The allusion to “their” (noc‘a) beautiful flower gardens and vineyards in this context may also suggest that women would normally oversee the process of cultivating plants and perhaps even winemaking.68 Amongst the lost attributes of a luxurious lifestyle Ełišē also mentions the “chairs of honor in their [women’s] houses.”69 Considering the fact that in naxarar Armenia the word gah (throne, chair) also referred to the position and status of a naxarar in the society, this reference may indicate the existence of a similar stratification within the naxarar’s household, where the wife of the paterfamilias held a respected position. The existence of the throne of honour of the materfamilias is further supported by a passage in the Epic Histories in which the wife of the sparapet Vardan Mamikonean is portrayed “on her

67 Ełišē, pp. 244–245 [200–201]: Զի թէպէտ եւ ունէին զիւրաքանչիւր ձեռնասուն սպասաւորս, ոչ ոք երեւէր ի նոցանէ՝ թէ ո՛ր տիկինն իցէ եւ կամ ո՛ր նաժիշտն.… Ոչ գոյր նոցա խախամոքք անուշարար առանձինն, եւ ոչ հացարարք որոշեալ ի պէտս սպասու ըստ ազատաց կարգի, այլ հասարակաց էր: … Ոչ ոք ումեք ջուր ի ձեռս արկանէր, եւ ոչ կրտսերք աւագաց դաստառակս մատուցանէին. չանկաւ օշնան ի ձեռս փափկասուն կանանց, եւ ոչ մատուցաւ եւղ ի զուարթութիւն խրախութեան: Չեդան առաջի սուրբ սկտեղք, եւ ոչ անկան բաժակակալք յուրախութիւն. չեկաց ուրուք նոցա նուիրակ առ դուրս, եւ ոչ կոչեցան պատուականք յարանց ի տաճարս նոցա.… եւ խանգարեցան սպասք երախանաց նոցա: … Չորացան ազազեցան բուրաստանք ծաղկոցաց նոցա, եւ տաշտախիլ եղեն որթք գինեբեր այգեաց նոցա.

68 Cf. Prov. 31:16 about the ideal wife: “She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.” 69 Ełišē, p. 245 [201]: կործանեցան բարձրագահք տաճարաց նոցա.


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throne on the fortress up above” when she hears “the mournful clamour” announcing her husband’s death.70 A similar account is presented by Łazar, who lists a number of worldly pleasures of which noblewomen were deprived: “fine wheat flour [bread]”, “pure wine”, “silken garments embroidered with gold”, “elaborate beds” and “perfume”.71 Ełišē’s encomium also contains the first reference in Armenian literature to women sponsoring memorials. According to the author, those who perished in the battlefield or were held in the Persian prison “were recalled only by commemoration, and no yearly festivals brought them back from afar…. Many columns were set up in their memory, and the names of each one were inscribed thereon.”72 This type of social activity is better attested in later sources which testify to noblewomen’s involvement in the construction of monasteries and churches, as well as their sponsoring of manuscripts.73 5


Despite the literary nature of most of the texts discussed in the present chapter, references to noblewomen’s way of living, their roles within the family, and appearances in public allow us to reconstruct, albeit partially, specific aspects of their life in early Christian Armenia. On the representation level, women were portrayed positively. Armenian authors consistently wrote about women who were endowed with active agency, often appeared in public, and participated in social events alongside men. The extant evidence also suggests that there was a rigid hierarchy amongst women within the noble household. Women’s mobility and access to public and domestic spaces depended on their status in the extended family and 70 EH, IV.xviii: Եւ կինն նորա [Վարդանայ] յղի էր, եւ հասեալ էին աւուրք ծննդեան իւրոյ: Մինչ դեռ ի վեր ի բերդին նստէր ի գահոյս իւրում, եղեւ գոյժ սաստիկ. իսկ նա իբրեւ զձայն գուժոյն լսէր, վազէր ի գահոյից անտի, եւ ընդ վազելն ծնանէր զմանուկն; “His [Vardan’s] wife was pregnant and the time had come for her

to give birth. While she sat on her throne in the fortress up above, a terrible clamor arose, and when she heard the mournful clamor, she ran down from her throne, and as she ran, she gave birth to a child.” 71 ŁP, p. 161 [109–110] (for the Armenian text of this passage and its English translation, see Chapter 4, pp. 123 and 125). 72 Ełišē, p. 247 [203]: Բնագրօք յիշատակեցան նոքա, եւ ոչ մի տօնք տարեկանաց ոչ ածին զնոսա ի հեռաստանէ.… Բազում արձանք կանգնեալ էին յանուն նոցա, եւ անուանք իւրաքանչիւր նշանակեալ ի նոսա. 73 See Rapti 2014 and Greenwood 2004, pp. 68–69.

Women in Society: Spaces, Roles, and Everyday Life


was restricted to specific areas. The abstract boundaries were most likely delineated by customary law and were recognised by all members of society. However, under exceptional circumstances women could overcome these restrictions and move from one space to another without subverting the existing order. Women’s status within the family also determined the duties they had in the household. Alongside their responsibility of managing the affairs of their estates, one of the main roles that senior women in noble households would assume was that of an educator, which involved both some teaching and supervision of children’s education.

chapter 6

Marriage in Early Christian Armenia 1


One of the most characteristic features of marriage traditions and customs is conservatism. The old rituals and customary practices do not usually fade away with the emergence of a new socio-political reality, but are usually modified to fit the new ideological framework. The primary mechanisms include substitution of an old ritual by its symbolic representation, and reinterpretation of the practice through the discourse of the emerging power. Some of the customs, nevertheless, are deemed unacceptable and therefore attempts are made by the authorities to eradicate them.1 The written sources of the fifth century contain depictions of such processes in early Christian Armenia, the study of which will be conducive to our understanding of the institution of marriage in Armenian society before and immediately after Christianisation. 2

Different Traditions

After Christianisation the church devoted considerable effort to prohibit all the practices concerning marriage that did not comply with Christian teachings.2 Most of these practices, nevertheless, were so deeply rooted in the customs and traditions of the people that even harsh punishments imposed by the church authorities would not act as a deterrent. In order to understand the nature of these practices we should refer to the Iranian marriage models discussed in Chapter 1, as well as to several canons of the Council of Šahapivan (444),3 which dealt with undesirable practices. Alessandro Orengo has noted that some of the marriage practices condemned by the canons of Šahapivan seem to have ancient roots, for they have 1 For examples of these mechanisms applied in Armenian tradition throughout centuries, see Samuēlean 1904, pp. 51–68. 2 The first attested evidence is found in the Epic Histories, which recounts the reforms introduced by St Nersēs during his reign as patriarch of Greater Armenia in ca 353–373 (EH IV.iv, V.xxi and xxxi). 3 For the Council of Šahapivan, see Hakobyan 1964, pp. 627–635; Arevshatian 1959, pp. 334–337; Akinean 1949, pp. 79–140.

© David Zakarian, 2021 | doi:10.1163/9789004445031_008

Marriage in Early Christian Armenia


also been attested among different Indo-European peoples, whereas certain marriage patterns appear to be of Iranian origin and are well-documented in the Sasanian law-code Mātakdān ī hazār dādastān (The Book of a Thousand Judgements).4 I shall go one step further and argue that the elite of the Armenian nobility primarily upheld the Iranian marriage traditions, whereas local marriage customs were more popular among the general population. This observation relies on the fact that fifth-century Armenian historians, predominantly writing for and about the nobles, allude to conjugal relationships of the naxarars, which bear an unmistakable Iranian (Zoroastrian) trace.5 In contrast to it, on the basis of the canons of Šahapivan it becomes clear that the azats and šinakans alongside certain Zoroastrian practices also followed local marriage customs which were decried by the church.6 Political, economic, and cultural factors lay behind this divergence of attitude. The centuries-long political and cultural affiliations with the Persian court, the Parthian origin of the Armenian Arsacids in a more recent past, the constant need to preserve the old and forge new alliances, and sharing the same religious beliefs were all conducive to strengthening ties between the Armenian and Iranian elites. However, with the establishment of the Sassanid dynasty in 224 ce in Persia the process of political alienation of the Armenian nobility from the Persians began, and with Armenia’s Christianisation at the beginning of the fourth century the foundation for a cultural breach was laid. Nevertheless, in the fourth and fifth centuries we can still observe the manifestations of the Iranian substratum of Armenian culture in the works of historians. As for the economic significance of these ties, the Iranian system of agnatic family relationships, which was replicated in Armenia, enabled the preservation of dynastic property and ensured a family’s prosperity and influential position in society. These factors, however, could not have had profound effect on the lifestyle of the azats and šinakans due to their lower status and insignificant political weight. In general, marriages attracted the attention of fifth-century Armenian historians if they had major social and political consequences. Therefore, it is not surprising that information about the conjugal bonds of the elite has primarily been preserved. A close examination of extant sources, especially of the Epic 4 Orengo 2009, p. 648. 5 An exception might be Xorenac‘i, if we place him in the fifth century, for he relates the epic story of the Armenian King Artašēs and the princess of the Alans Sat‘inik discussed below, which reflects a very old custom. 6 Orengo 2009, p. 648 and 2004, pp. 534–536.


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Histories, reveals many elements of Iranian types of marriage, which constitutes another piece of evidence for the continuity of a pre-Christian mentality in Armenia after Christianisation. The strident criticism that some of the customs received in religious and historical writing enables us to research practices that continued in the new socio-political reality. 3

Local Customs

Based on his reading of Canons VI and VII of Šahapivan, Orengo points to three ways in which one could get a wife: first, the future husband paid a “compenso” (fee, compensation) to the girl’s family; second, “ottenere per ratto”, obtaining a wife through abduction/rape, and, finally, “unioni di fatto”, when a couple lived together without being formally married.7 This classification appears to reflect the actual situation in society, yet more precise definitions of each type should be provided. Orengo’s first type of conjugal bond is well-known to Armenian sources as marriage by varjank‘ (payment, dowry), whereas the second type, by means of aṙewang, should be more accurately referred to as ‘marriage by abduction,’ rather than ‘by rape’.8 Finally, the “unioni di fatto” are most likely references to stūr marriages. A discussion of the representation of each type of marriage in the literary texts and church canons enables us to understand the basic structure of the institution of marriage in early Christian Armenia. 3.1 Marriage by Varjank‘ The most common and socially acceptable type of marriage was the one achieved through mutual agreement of the families of future husband and 7 Orengo 2009, pp. 646–647. 8 According to NBHL (1:302) առեւանգ or առեւանկ renders Greek αρπαγή, Latin rapina, raptus and means “seizing and fleeing,” as well as “abducting a girl, or a stranger’s wife.” The Italian word “ratto” can be rendered as both ‘abduction’ and ‘rape’, and in his earlier English-language study Orengo refers to this type of marriage as “by way of rape” (2004, p. 534). However, during personal communication in summer 2019, Orengo clarified that in that paper the word “rape” had been used by him in its archaic meaning of ‘abduction’. Thus, the rendering of the Armenian առեւանկ առնիցեն from Canon VII (see below), as ‘abduction’ rather than ‘rape’ is more accurate in this context. Another piece of evidence that supports this view is found in the same canon, for it discusses different attitudes to the marriage of the abductor and the abducted girl depending on whether “they have fornicated earlier,” or not, which clearly implies that the abduction was not necessarily accompanied by intercourse or rape. Arevshatian, too, translates առեւանկ առնիցեն into Russian with the verb ‘to abduct’ – « Если похитят девицу » (1959, p. 342).

Marriage in Early Christian Armenia


wife, accompanied by the symbolic payment of a bride price, varjank‘, by the man’s family to the family of the bride. It was legally a complete marriage corresponding to the Iranian pātixšāyīh type, which was usually negotiated between the man or his father if he was alive, and the woman’s father or guardian. It was considered unacceptable to force the girl into marriage against her will.9 Yet, taking into account the patriarchal nature of the Armenian family, we should not be too optimistic about the alternatives that a woman had: it is more likely that, being under absolute control of the tanutēr and not having many options, she would eventually give in to coercions.10 The events preceding the wedding are interesting by themselves for they involved customs some of which have been preserved up to the present day. In order to arrange the union of two people, the family of the man would send a delegation to the future bride’s house to negotiate the marriage. The Armenian word for bride, harsn, is etymologically connected to the verb harc‘nel, which means ‘to ask, inquire’.11 Thus, the delegates would come to the girl’s house and ask for her hand, and a customary ritual of refusal by the girl’s relatives and persuasion by the man’s representatives would follow. Eventually, after having provided gifts and money (varjank‘) to the girl’s family, an agreement would be reached,12 which meant that the girl was officially betrothed to the man. Soon, the wedding would be arranged and the couple would go to the church to receive the nuptial blessings, after which the bride would pass under the protection of her husband’s family, which was now responsible for her welfare.13 This meant losing her position in her birth family and acquiring a new status in the clan of her husband. It also entailed certain duties and responsibilities which depended on the bride’s position in the family hierarchy discussed previously. The presents and money given to the bride’s family did not represent the price of purchase of the girl, although it could have been the case originally, but rather it was a symbolic gesture meant to prevent blood vengeance, which would take place in the case of abducting the girl without prior betrothal.14 9

Perikhanian 1983a, p. 647. See also Canon XXVII attributed to St Sahak, which forbids the marriage of young people if they have not seen each other before and/or if they are forced to marry against their will (Hakobyan 1964, p. 382). 10 Cf. Treggiari 1982, discussing a similar situation in Roman society. 11 See Martirosyan 2010, pp. 395–396; Mahé 2000, p. 694; Ačaṙyan 1971–1979, 3:62–63, and Hübschmann 1897, pp. 464–465. 12 See Mahé 2000, pp. 694–695, quoting Xorenac‘i, Darinsky, Lalayan, and Charachidze. 13 For details of wedding customs in different Armenian communities, see Samuēlean 1904, pp. 51–62. 14 This is an observation made by Mahé based on Darinsky’s study of the traditions and habits of mountainous peoples of the Caucasus (Mahé 2000, p. 695, n. 92); see also


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Gift-giving had its benefits for the man, as it would have helped him to bring his wife back, had she decided to run away from him.15 Thus, Canon VI of Šahapivan states that “[i]f the wife abandons her husband, let her be seized and brought back to him, especially if she was taken by means of payment [varjank‘] and not like a harlot.”16 For the wedding, the bride’s family was obliged to provide a dowry, awžit, which, depending on the socio-economic status of the family, could consist of possessions from personal jewellery to tracts of land.17 However, this property was inalienable and still belonged to the wife’s tohm in the case of divorce,18 which meant that potentially the wife had some means at her disposal and could use them independently.19 In the Iranian tradition divorce was normally achieved by mutual agreement, but if the woman was barren or displayed deviant behaviour, primarily adultery, the husband could dissolve the union by himself.20 The extant evidence suggests that the situation was not different in pre- and early Christian Armenia. Xorenac‘i, for instance, describes the separation of St Gregory the Illuminator and his wife Mariam in the following terms: “But when the child [Gregory] reached maturity, a certain Christian called David married him to his daughter Mariam. After the birth of two sons in three years, they both willingly separated from each other.”21

Samuēlean 1904, pp. 64–68. This is how NBHL (2:796) explains varjank‘: “Φερνή. Dos. δόμα, donum. Վարձ հարսին կամ հարսնութեան ի փեսայէ եւ ի տանէ նորա” (Payment towards the bride or marriage provided by the bridegroom and his family). 15 Orengo 2009, p. 647. 16 Hakobyan 1964, p. 438: Եթե կին ոք յառնէ ելանիցէ, կալցին եւ անդրէն յայր իւր տացեն, եւ մանաւանդ զոր վարձանաւք իցէ վարձեալ եւ ոչ բոզաբար. 17 See below Canon V of Šahapivan, where as a dowry “a maid, cattle, silver” are mentioned. 18 Mahé 2000, p. 695; Adoyan 1965, p. 55. For the inalienable property of the Iranian family, see Pigulevskaya 1956, pp. 178–179, 181, 183–184. It is noteworthy that in contemporary Armenia the concept of ‘inalienability’ of the dowry still exists, for it should be returned to the woman’s family if the couple gets divorced. 19 Only the aforementioned passage in Ełišē (see above Chapter 5, n. 72) offers evidence of women’s freedom to manage their own possessions, but the financial support that women provided during the construction of churches in a slightly later period (see Rapti 2014) points in that direction. 20 Perikhanian 1983a, p. 648. 21 MX, II.lxxx: Բայց յարբունս հասակի հասեալ մանկանն [Գրիգորի]` փեսայացուցանէ հաւատացեալ ոմն այր, որում անուն էր Դաւիթ, ի դուստր իւր Մարիամ. որ յետ երից ամաց երկուց որդւոց լինելոյ, ի կամաց երկոցունց մեկնեալ ի միմեանց զատչին.

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Canon V of Šahapivan provides further insights into the divorce practice: If one takes a wife who turns out to be barren, and the man leaves her because of her infertility, the woman is entitled to take back all the belongings she has brought with her to [her husband’s] house – a maid, cattle, garments, silver – and leave. And if besides infertility, the woman has no other defects, the husband must also pay the woman a fine for insult: if he is azat – 1200 dram; if he is šinakan – 600.22 This canon seems to be congruous with the Iranian divorce law according to which “when divorce occurred the woman took away with her, besides her dowry, her personal possessions and her kāpēn (donatio propter nuptial)”.23 In addition, it clearly states that infertility was considered to be a defect (arat), albeit not a very serious one, for the husband was obliged to repair the moral damage caused by the divorce because of infertility. To summarise, marriage by varjank‘ was the most acceptable type of marriage, approved by communities and religious authorities. If no breach of awrēnk‘ was detected, the priest would marry the couple in the church and their marriage would be perceived as a chaste union.24 3.2 Marriage by Abduction The practice of abducting a girl for marriage purposes goes back to ancient times and has been attested in many societies,25 including amongst Armenians. From the fifth century onwards, the Armenian Church authorities made constant efforts to ban this practice, but its survival until today clearly indicates that this ancient custom was very much approved of by the general populace. Recent anthropological studies have shown that the basic pattern of this practice does not differ much from one society to another. Here is a brief summary of its main features: 22 Hakobyan 1964, pp. 436–437: Եթե կին ոք արար եւ ամուլ պատահեաց, եւ այրն հանցէ զնա վասն ամլութեանն, որ ինչ կնոջն կարասի բերեալ է ի տուն, թէ աղախին թէ անասուն, եթէ հանդէրձ եթէ արծաթ` առնուլ իշխեսցէ եւ գնայ: Եւ եթէ քան զամլութիւնն այլ արատ չգուցէ ի [կինն`] մարդն տուգան եւս տացէ կնոջն, վասն անարգանացն, թէ ազատ է` ՌՄ դրամ, եւ եթէ շինական` Ո.

23 Perikhanian 1983a, p. 648. 24 Cf. Hakobyan 1964, p. 432; the rendering of Heb. 13:4 in Canon III of Šahapivan: Պատուական է ամուսնութիւն եւ անարատ անկողինք, որ սրբութեամբ զուգին; “Honourable is the marriage and undefiled is the bed [of those] who married in chastity.” 25 See, for instance, the special issue of Anthropological Quarterly entitled “Kidnapping and Elopement as Alternative Systems of Marriage” (Kenny 1974).


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The would-be abductor gathers together male companions of his own age. The raiding party may waylay the intended bride outside her home while she is going about her daily chores, for instance at the well, or they may break into her house and seize her. Often violence ensues. The girl’s father and brothers will attempt to defend her; the conflict may result in death, particularly for the abductor. If the abduction is successful, the girl is taken to a place outside the village, perhaps in the woods, where she cannot be found. She may then be raped by her prospective husband, but not necessarily; what is important is that her reputation will be irreversibly damaged, since it will be assumed by her family and by the community that she is no longer a virgin…. she knows she will not be able to make a good marriage with anyone else after her reputation has been so compromised. The girl’s family will be very angry for a while, perhaps for as long as several years. Eventually, however, there will be reconciliation, particularly if the couple have a baby.26 In some cases, the girl has a prior agreement with her abductors and facilitates her own abduction: in other words, she elopes with the man for whom she feels affection. This usually happens because the girl’s family is against her marriage to the specific person.27 Another reason for abducting a girl is her unwillingness to marry that man, though after the abduction she is left with virtually no alternative. Although we possess little information about the abduction practice in early Christian Armenia, there is little doubt that the Armenian pattern was very similar to the one described above. I shall limit myself to a discussion of two references to kidnapping women: one – the condemnation of this practice in the canons of Šahapivan, and the second – the fragment of an epic of Artašēs and Sat‘inik preserved in Xorenac‘i’s History. 3.2.1 Canon VII The Šahapivan Canon VII provides valuable information about the practice of bride theft, for it mentions all the parties involved in it and the punishment that will be imposed on the offenders. Therefore, it is worth citing it in its entirety:

26 Evans-Grubbs 1989, p. 62. A similar pattern is described by Samuēlean (1904, pp. 47–51), who provides examples of this practice in various Armenian communities. 27 Evans-Grubbs 1989, pp. 62–63.

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Let those who committed the abduction seize the woman and return her to her father and mother, and pay a fine to them for insult: if [the abductor is] azat – 1200 dram, if šinakan – 600. And the gang that assisted the pseudo-bridegroom, each must pay a fine of 100 dram, half of which will be given to the church, and the other half to the destitute. If the pseudo-bridegroom has committed fornication with the girl without marrying her, he must pay 100 dram to the church; for showing disrespect to the nuptial blessing, he must live 3 years in penance. If a priest married them without the girl’s mother and father, let he be stripped of his priesthood and pay 100 dram to the destitute, and the marriage must be considered invalid. And even if, after this trouble and punishment, the girl and her parents reach an agreement [with the man], their union must not be blessed if they have fornicated earlier, but it must be treated as second marriage and [twigs of] willow must be put on their heads in the form of the cross. But if they remained virgins, their marriage must be blessed according to the law. This applies to both azats and šinakans.28 The general pattern of how an abduction is organised appears virtually identical to the aforementioned account. It is clear that the bridegroom always acted with a group of accomplices (hros), and there were priests who would marry the young couple, regardless of whether fornication had taken place or not. Two allusions to extramarital intercourse suggest that it was a common practice deeply troubling the church authorities. The canon stresses that if the couple had lost their virginity before the sacred ceremony, their marriage was treated as a second one, which appears to have been socially inferior to the

28 Hakobyan 1964, pp. 439–440: Որք առեւանկ առնիցեն, կալցին զկինն եւ անդէն տացեն ցհայր եւ ցմայր իւր եւ տուգան տացեն փոխանակ անարգանացն եթէ ազատ է` ՌՄ դրամ, եթէ շինական է` Ո: Եւ որք հրոսն երթեալ էին աւգնականք սուտ փեսային` առ այրն Ճ դրամ տուգանեսցին, եւ զհրոսին դրամն զկէսն յեկեղեցի տացեն եւ զկէսն կարաւտելոց: Ապա եթէ սուտ փեսայն ընդ աղջկանն պոռնկեցաւ առանց պսակ դնելոյ` յեկեղեցի տուգան կալցին Ճ դրամ. զի զպսակն աւրհնութեան անարգեաց, Գ ամս յապաշխարութեան կացցէ: Ապա եթէ երիցու ուրուք գաղտ պսակ եդեալ իցէ, առանց հաւր եւ մաւր աղջկանն, երէցն զքահանայութիւնն չիշխէ պաշտել եւ Ճ դրամ տուգան կալցին եւ կարաւտելոց տացեն եւ պսակ, զոր եդ, անվաւեր լիցի: Ապա եթէ յետ այսր խռովութեան եւ տուգանաց, դարձեալ ի հաւանութիւն գան կամաւք աղջկանն եւ ծնողացն, եւ թէ յառաջ պոռնկեալ են` պսակ մի՛ աւրհնեսցի, այլ իբրեւ զերկակին ուռ տեառնագրեալ դիցի ի գլուխ. Ապա եթէ կուսան կացեալք են` ըստ աւրինին պսակ աւրհնեսցի: Եթէ ազատ եւ եթէ շինական` կանոն այդ կացցէ.


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marriage of virgins.29 It is further supported by Canon III, which additionally discusses the case when only one of the couple was a virgin, notably without discriminating whether it was the man or the woman.30 Moreover, the mention of both parents of the girl, rather than only of the father, bespeaks the active involvement of the mother in issues regarding her daughter’s marriage. Unfortunately, no particulars are provided concerning the agreement that could be reached by the parties, but presumably the girl’s parents would demand sufficient compensation for damaging their family’s reputation and might even refuse to provide their daughter with any dowry.31 It should also be noted that the canon does not differentiate between abduction without the girl’s consent and the girl’s elopement, for in both cases the reputation of the girl and her family could suffer. The fact that the canon does not impose any punishment on the girl is particularly revealing, especially if we compare it with Edict IX. 24. I of the Emperor Constantine against bride theft.32 According to the latter, the girl shared with the abductors the responsibility for her abduction, and she was to receive the same punishment with them, which most probably was the death penalty.33 Only if the girl could prove that she had endeavoured to stop the offenders


Cf. Hakobyan 1964, p. 432: Canon II forbids the second marriage of widowed priest or his wife. 30 Ibid., p. 434: եթէ ոք յառաջ քան զամուսնութիւնն ի պոռնկութեան գտաւ … մի՜ իբրեւ կուսանաց պսակ աւրհնեսցեն, այլ իբրեւ երկակին տեառնագրեսցեն լոկ: … Ապա եթէ մինն սուրբ կուսան եւ մինն պոռնկեալ` կուսանին իբրեւ կուսանի աւրհնեսցի, եւ պոռնկացելոյն որպէս երկակին` ուռ տեառնագրել վասն յաղթութեան թշնամւոյն ի գլուխ դիցի; “if anyone fornicated before mar-

riage … their union must not be blessed as that of virgins, but it must only be signed with the cross as in the second marriage…. But if one [of the couple] is a chaste virgin and the other is not, the virgin must be blessed as virgin, and the fornicator must be treated as marrying the second time and [twigs of] willow must be put on their heads in the form of the cross because of the victory of the enemy.” 31 According to Evans-Grubbs (1989, p. 63), “[i]n societies where the bride in a properly arranged marriage is expected to bring a substantial dowry to her husband, marriage by abduction even has certain advantages for the girl’s family, since no dowry can be demanded by an abductor.” This observation relies on the evidence provided by Campbell (1974, p. 131), who writes about the community of Greek Sarakatsan: “The bride’s family are extremely angry at the time [after abduction] but their reputation is not unduly damaged; the original assertion of their greater worth, which the refusal to give the girl implied, still carries some of its force and there is considerable material compensation in the fact that no dowry need be handed over.” 32 It dates back to 326 CE and was included in the Codex Theodosianus published on 15 February 438 (Schminck 1991, p. 475). 33 Evans-Grubbs 1989, p. 64.

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would her punishment include only loss of the right to legal succession to her parents.34 3.2.2 Artašēs and Sat‘inik Although historical writings that can safely be dated back to the fifth century do not contain any reference to marriage by abduction, the History of Movsēs Xorenac‘i has preserved an ancient epic tale of Artašēs and Sat‘inik, which provides a beautiful poetic account of bride theft. Xorenac‘i claims that the histories about King Artašēs (second century bce) were related by minstrels in the region of Gołt‘n, and that he intends to explain them to the reader because they are allegories.35 According to Xorenac‘i, in the reign of Artašēs war breaks out between the Armenians and the Alans, and the two armies, advancing towards each other, camp on the opposite sides of the River Kura. Under unspecified circumstances, the Armenians capture the young prince of the Alans, and his sister, Princess Sat‘inik, approaches the riverbank and through interpreters asks Artašēs to free her brother: I say to you, valiant Artašēs, that you have conquered the brave nation of the Alans. Come, consent to the request of the beautiful-eyed Alan princess to give up the youth. For it is not right for heroes to take the lives of the progeny of other heroes for the sake of vengeance, or by subjecting them to keep them in the rank of slaves and perpetuate eternal enmity between two brave nations.36 34 Ibid., pp. 59–60: “si voluntatis adsensio detegitur in virgine, eadem qua raptor severitate plectatur, cum neque his impunitas praestanda sit, quae rapiuntur invitae, cum et domi se usque ad coniunctionis diem servare potuerint et, si fores raptoris frangerentur audacia, vicinorum opem clamoribus quaerere seque omnibus tueri conatibus. Sed his poenam leviorem inponimus, solamque eis parentum negari successionem praecipimus”; “if voluntary assent is revealed in the virgin, she shall be struck with the same severity as her abductor; impunity shall not be offered to those girls who are abducted against their will either, since they too could have kept themselves at home till their marriage day and, if the doors were broken down by the abductor’s audacity, they could have sought help from the neighbours by their cries and could have defended themselves with all their efforts. But we impose a lighter penalty on these girls, and order that only legal succession to their parents is to be denied them.” 35 MX, II.49: Արտաշիսի վերջնոյ գործք՝ բազում ինչ յայտնի են քեզ ի վիպասանացն, որ պատմին ի Գողթան … բայց յիշատակեսցուք եւ մեք կարճառօտիւք, եւ զայլաբանութիւնն ճշմարտեսցուք; “The deeds of the last Artašēs are mostly revealed to you from the tales told in Gołt‘n … But we too shall recall them briefly and give the true meaning of the allegory.” 36 Ibid., II.50: Քեզ ասեմ, այր քաջ Արտաշէս, / Որ յաղթեցեր քաջ ազգին Ալանաց. / Ե՛կ հաւանեա՛ց բանից աչագեղոյ դստերս Ալանաց՝ / Տալ զպատանիդ. / Զի


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Artašēs, allured by the maiden’s wise words, comes closer to the riverside, and upon seeing her beauty falls in love with her. What follows resembles the marriage custom described above: a delegation of the Armenian king is sent to the Alans to ask for Sat‘inik’s hand. The king of the Alans expresses doubts that “the brave Artašēs” can “give a thousand thousands and a myriad myriads in return for the noble-born princess of the Alans.”37 The narration here continues with Xorenac‘i quoting the song of minstrels: Noble King Artašēs mounted a beautiful black horse, and taking a strap of red leather with golden rings and crossing the river like a swift-winged eagle and throwing the strap of red leather with golden rings he cast it around the waist of the Alan princess, greatly paining the tender maiden’s waist; and he quickly brought her to his camp.38 Due to his distrust of epic tales as historical sources, Xorenac‘i treats these lines as an allegory, and explains that ‘red leather’ and ‘golden rings’ represent the payment (varjank‘) that Artašēs made for the bride.39 Some scholars, on the other hand, understand it literally as a description of bride theft.40 It is beyond the scope of this study to decide which interpretation is more accurate, but what matters here is that both of them reflect the marriage customs observed by the Armenians, namely marriage by mutual agreement accompanied by the payment made to the bride’s family and marriage by abduction of the bride. Xorenac‘i also provides a compelling piece of information about the wedding ceremony. He quotes the minstrels singing: “A shower of gold rained down

37 38



վասն միոյ քինու ոչ է օրէն դիւցազանց՝ / Զայլոց դիւցազանց զարմից բառնալ զկենդանութիւն, / Կամ ծառայեցուցանելով ի ստրկաց կարգի պահել, / Եւ թշնամութիւն յաւիտենական / Ի մէջ երկոցունց ազգաց քաջաց հաստատել. Ibid., II.50: Եւ ուստի՞ տացէ քաջն Արտաշէս հազարս ի հազարաց եւ բիւրս ի բիւրուց ընդ քաջազգւոյ կոյս օրիորդիս Ալանաց. Ibid.: Հեծաւ արի արքայն Արտաշէս ի սեաւն գեղեցիկ, / Եւ հանեալ զոսկէօղ շիկափոկ պարանն, / Եւ անցեալ որպէս զարծուի սրաթեւ ընդ գետն, / Եւ ձգեալ զոսկէօղ շիկափոկ պարանն՝ / Ընկէց ի մէջք օրիորդին Ալանաց, / Եւ շատ ցաւեցոյց զմէջք փափուկ օրիորդին, / Արագ հասուցանելով ի բանակն իւրե. Ibid.: Որ եւ ճշմարտութեամբ ունի այսպէս: Քանզի պատուեալ է առ Ալանս մորթ կարմիր՝ լայքա շատ եւ ոսկի բազում տուեալ ի վարձանս՝ առնու զտիկին օրիորդն Սաթինիկ: Այս է ոսկէօղ շիկափոկ պարանն; “The truth is as follows.

Because red leather is greatly prized among the Alans, he gave much lac and gold as payment and received the maiden Sat‘inik – this is the strap of red leather with gold rings.” Abełyan 1968a, pp. 68–69, 301; Samuēlean 1904, p. 43.

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at the marriage of Artašēs; / it rained pearls at the wedding of Sat‘inik.”41 The historian explains that the Armenian “kings had the custom of going to the door of the palace at a marriage and scattering gold coins like the Roman consuls. So too the queens [scattered] pearls in the bridal chamber.”42 Abełyan mentioned that a similar custom was observed in his times: in the towns when the “queen” and the “king” (as the Armenians are accustomed to call the bride and the groom on their wedding day) came out of the church, people would throw minor coins in their direction, whereas in the villages the coins were substituted by raisins, pieces of fruit and wheat.43 The vivid description of what appears to be a bride theft in the epic tale Artašēs and Sat‘inik has survived in communal memory through the songs and stories of minstrels. The fact that the tale glorifies the deeds of an Armenian king, who lived in the second century bce may be an indication that the Armenians were acquainted with this practice before Christianisation. The Šahapivan Canon VII condemning it leaves no doubt that in the fifth century, bride theft was an observable phenomenon which became a serious cause for concern to the church authorities. 3.3 Cohabitation without Formal Marriage: Stūr Marriage An allusion to cohabitation without formal marriage is found in Canon VI of the Šahapivan collection of canons, which highlights how differently a woman married by varjank‘ should be treated to the one married ‘like a harlot’ (bozabar).44 Orengo believes that marriage ‘like a harlot’ refers to the cohabitation of two people devoid of additional formalities,45 without expanding on the use of the derogatory term bozabar. Recourse to historical sources allows us to confirm this supposition and to explain the exact nature of this sort of union, identifying it with the stūr type of marriage described in the Sasanian legal texts, which, for understandable reasons, received the severe condemnation of the church.

41 MX, II.50: Տեղ ոսկի տեղայր / Ի փեսայութեանն Արտաշիսի, / Տեղայր մարգարիտ / Ի հարսնութեան Սաթինկանն. 42 Ibid.: սովորութիւն իսկ էր թագաւորացն մերոց, փեսայութեամբ ի դուռն 43 44 45

տաճարին հասանել՝ դահեկանս ճապաղել իբրեւ զհիւպատեանն Հռոմայեցւոց. սապէս եւ թագուհեացն յառագաստին՝ մարգարիտ.

Abełyan 1968a, p. 69. See above n. 16. Orengo 2009, p. 647.


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In this respect the account of Queen P‘aṙanjem’s marriages to King Aršak and his nephew Gnel46 is a valuable source of information, which also reveals some aspects of marriage customs of the elite in early Christian Armenia. The three texts which have preserved, albeit with variations, the intricate details of P‘aṙanjem’s relationships with the two men of the Arsacid dynasty, reveal unmistakable traces of Iranian marriage customs and traditions. The Epic Histories, with its characteristic embellishments and legendary motifs, is our main source on which Xorenac‘i’s more sombre interpretation and the much later and somewhat divergent Life of St Nersēs are based.47 All three narratives are familiar with P‘aṙanjem’s two marriages, to Gnel and to Aršak, and they also mention Aršak’s other wife, a Greek noble woman called Ołompi (Olympias). The Shakespearian-style intrigues and murders48 accompanying these marriages have caused confusion over their order and have given rise to various interpretations.49 In a recent article50 I have addressed this complex topic in detail, proposing a new explanation to what Nina Garsoïan has accurately characterised as a “medley.”51 Here I shall only present the main conclusions. A close reading of the primary sources allows us to reconstruct the following sequence of events. P‘aṙanjem, the beautiful daughter of one of the most influential naxarars of Siwnik‘, Andovk, was given in marriage to Gnel, the son of King Aršak’s brother.52 Their marriage, however, did not last long. Another nephew of the king, called Tirit‘, who was apparently infatuated with P‘aṙanjem, slandered Gnel before the king, and Aršak issued the order


Two spellings of Gnel’s name are found in the primary sources: Գնէլ (Gnēl) and Գնել (Gnel). For the sake of consistency the second variant is used throughout the discussion, with the exception of direct quotes or references to other studies. 47 The absence of a critical edition of the Life of St Nersēs renders it difficult to date the source, but the text itself suggests a fifth-century core heavily interpolated in the subsequent centuries. The earliest manuscript to which the editors of Sop‘erk‘ refer is of the twelfth century (Life of St Nersēs, p. 8), and the allusion to the Franks and the capture of Jerusalem by the Crusaders (ibid., p. 90) indicate that the final redaction of the text took place in the twelfth century. 48 Orengo 2009, p. 649. 49 See Garsoïan 2013. 50 See Zakarian 2018, which elaborates on the hypothesis suggested in Zakarian 2013a, pp. 11–12, and 14. 51 Garsoïan 2013, p. 61. 52 EH, IV.xv: Զայնու ժամանակաւ էր դուստր մի գեղեցիկ Անդովկայ ուրումն, մի ի նախարարացն նահապետին Սիւնեաց, որում անուն Փառանձեմ կոչէր. զորմէ կարի անուանեալ էր գեղեցկութեամբ եւ պարկեշտութեամբ; “Around that time

Andovk, one of the naxarars of Siwnik‘, had a beautiful daughter named P‘aṙanjem who was greatly renowned for her beauty and her modesty.”

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to murder Gnel, who died without leaving an heir.53 Complying with his obligations as the head of the Arsacid family, Aršak took P‘aṙanjem as his wife to ensure the continuation of Gnel’s lineage.54 Aršak’s actions were in accordance with the legal, religious (Zoroastrian) and customary obligations of the agnatic group to ensure the continuation of the line of its members by means of stūr marriages, that is either through čakarīh union or the marriage of epikleros.55 Thus, should a man die without leaving an heir, the members of the agnatic group would ensure that a boy be borne by the deceased man’s widow, daughter or a woman appointed by the agnates so that he will manage the deceased man’s property and preserve the domestic cult of his ancestors.56 Therefore, the future King Pap, who was born to Aršak and P‘aṙanjem, was the heir of Gnel in accordance with the customary law, but because Aršak did not have other children and the next Aršakuni in the line for succession was Pap, Pap was also the legitimate heir to the Armenian throne. An important observation allows us to explore P‘aṙanjem’s status within her marriage to Aršak and confirms our suggestion that she was united to the king through čakarīh marriage. In particular, we may observe that after noting the marriage of Aršak to P‘aṙanjem, without any mention of the formal wedding ceremony, as was the case with P‘aṙanjem’s marriage to Gnel, the Armenian sources refer to P‘aṙanjem merely as the wife of the king.57 On the 53 Ibid. 54 That Aršak had this responsibility is also seen in the episode when after Gnel’s death Tirit‘ asks for Aršak’s (and not P‘aṙanjem’s father Andovk’s) permission to marry widowed P‘aṙanjem, which clearly indicates that P‘aṙanjem, as a widow of an Aršakuni prince, was under the guardianship of Aršak: Կամ լիցի, ասէ [Տիրիթ], քեզ արքայի, զի հրաման տացես զՓառանձեմ կին Գնելոյ թող առից ինձ կնութեան; “‘May it be,’ he [Tirit‘] said, ‘your royal will, may you give the order allowing me to take Gnel’s wife P‘aṙanjem as my wife’” (ibid.). 55 See Chapter 1. 56 Perikhanian 1983b, pp. 82–83, and 94; for deviations from this model, see ibid., p. 97. 57 For instance, EH, IV.xviii: կին թագաւորին; “the wife of the king”; IV.xv: Եւ որչափ սիրէր արքայն Արշակ զկինն, նոյնչափ ատեաց կինն զարքայն Արշակ; “But as much as King Aršak loved the woman, so much did the woman hate the king …”; MX, III.xxiv: Իսկ Արշակ ոչ զղջացեալ ապաշաւեաց, այլ անամօթեալ, ագահելով ի գանձս սպանելոյն եւ ի ժառանգութիւն՝ յաւել առնուլ զկին նորին զՓառանձեմ; “However, Arshak showed no repentance or contrition but shamelessly rifled the treasure and inheritance of the dead man and even married his wife P‘aṙandzem”; III.xxxiv: Ապա այնուհետեւ յոյժ նեղեալ Արշակ, յոչ կամաց երթայ առ Շապուհ, եւ ի պահեստի լինի ի նմանէ. եւ բռնութեամբ հարկաւորեալ գրէ, զի Փառանձեմ կին նորա եկեսցէ ի դուռն; “So then Arshak, exceedingly hard pressed, unwillingly

went to Shapuh and was imprisoned by him. He was compelled to write that his wife P‘aṙandzem should come to the court” (emphasis mine); Life of St Nersēs, pp. 50–51: Իսկ Փառանձեմ ատեայլ զԱրշակ թագաւորն … եւ [Արշակ] կապեաց թագ ընդ նմա


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contrary, the sources use the queen’s title in relation to Aršak’s second wife, the Greek Princess Ołompi, who was subsequently assassinated by P‘aṙanjem.58 P‘aṙanjem continues to live at the court as the king’s wife and only when the Persian King Šapuh imprisons King Aršak in the fortress of Anhuš59 and it becomes clear that Aršak will eventually perish, does the compiler of the Epic Histories call P‘aṙanjem “the queen of the realm of Armenia, the wife of Aršak king of Armenia”.60 Since P‘aṙanjem’s representation unequivocally shows that during the reign of Aršak she does not hold the title of queen, it is reasonable to assume that she acquires this right as the mother of the future king and as the tantikin of the Aršakuni family. A curious episode which describes the defence of the besieged fortress of Artagers by the Sasanian army sheds further light on the attitude of the ruling Christian elite to P‘aṙanjem’s marriages, closely reflecting the Šahapivan Canon VI. By the end of the siege, when only P‘aṙanjem and two serving women survive what the author calls “divine blows”,61 the hayr mardpet62 enters the fortress through a secret passage and, according to the compiler,

[Ողոմպի], եւ առաւել սիրէր զնա քան զՓառանձեմ: Իսկ Փառանձեմ ոխացեալ ընդ Ողոմպի եւ հնարէր կորուսանել զնա; “But P‘aṙanjem hated King Aršak … and he

[Aršak] gave her [Ołompi] the crown, and loved her more than P‘aṙanjem. And P‘aṙanjem nourished resentment at Ołompi and thought of eliminating her.” 58 EH, IV.xv: ապա դրան երէց ոմն արքունի` որ էր ի ժամանակին յայն, որում անուն Մրջիւնիկ, … զնա ի բանս արկանէր Փառանձեմն անօրէնն … Ընդ տէրունական ընդ սուրբ ընդ աստուածական մարմինն ընդ հացն օրինաց խառնէին զդեղն սատակման, երէցն Մրջիւնիկ անուն, տալով յեկեղեցւոջն Ողոմպիայ տիկնոջն ընձեռել զմահուն գործ, եւ սպանանէր; “the iniquitous P‘aṙanjem then persuaded a

certain priest from the royal court named Mrǰiwnik … A mortal poison was mixed into the holy and divine Body of the Lord, into the bread of the Eucharist, and in the church the priest named Mrǰiwnik gave [this] death-dealing thing to Queen Ołompi, and so killed her” (emphasis mine). For more on Olympias and her family, see Chausson 2002. 59 Ibid., IV.liv. 60 Ibid., IV.lv: տիկին աշխարհին Հայոց կինն Արշակայ թագաւորին Հայոց Փառանձեմ. It is noteworthy that in the same episode the compiler stresses P‘aṙanjem’s title of the queen several times. Within this same context Xorenac‘i (MX, III.xxxv) also calls her ‘queen’ (dšxoy): Նա եւ ոչ դշխոյն Փառանձեմ գնաց ի կոչ առնն իւրոյ, այլ հանդերձ գանձիւք անկաւ յամուրն Արտագերից; “Likewise Queen P‘aṙandzem did not obey her husband’s summons, but with the treasures took refuge in the castle of Artagerk‘.” 61 EH, IV.lv: հարուածոց` որ յԱստուծոյ հասին. 62 The role of the hayr mardpet in the Armenian court is not quite clear, except for the fact that he possessed a very high rank, which, presumably, would allow him to treat the queen with disrespect. For more details and references, see ibid., pp. 542–543.

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shows disrespect towards the queen and deeply insults her “as though she were a harlot.”63 Then, he continues by inveighing against “the clan of Aršakuni for being men of ill-counsel and ill-repute, as well as destroyers of the realm.”64 No reason or explanation for this action is provided. In general, the representation of P‘aṙanjem throughout the Epic Histories is not dispassionate and the compiler does not miss any opportunity to highlight her ‘iniquity’,65 but only in this episode, in which P‘aṙanjem shows great courage and virtue, is she compared to a ‘harlot.’ Not a single reference can be found of P‘aṙanjem displaying promiscuous behaviour earlier in the narrative, which suggests that the hayr mardpet’s attitude to P‘aṙanjem must have been determined by her second marriage. Undoubtedly, the church would not bless this type of union, which would be perceived as concubinage66 rather than as marriage. In this context the hayr mardpet’s harsh treatment of the queen becomes fairly understandable, for thus he displays his personal disapproval of the ‘pagan’ customs which the Aršakuni family, of which P‘aṙanjem had become a member, continued to observe. Thus, the accounts of P‘aṙanjem’s marriages evince the continuing adhesion of the Armenian elite to pre-Christian customary law several decades after Armenia’s Christianisation. The stūr marriages were indeed popular in pre-Christian and early Christian Armenia, and were sustained through customary law, though at odds with Christian values. This claim is supported by the fact that the church issued several canons decrying practices such as marriages of in-laws, incestuous, and consanguineous marriages, which formed an integral part of stūr relationships. Therefore, we can now better understand why a cohabitation of two people without formal blessings was represented in such derogatory terms and why Queen P‘aṙanjem was treated ‘like a harlot’ by the hayr mardpet. 4

Marriage Patterns of the Armenian Elite

Not all marriage types discussed above are attested among the Armenian elite, and there must have been objective reasons for it besides the ones mentioned earlier. For instance, abducting a naxarar’s daughter from their fortified 63 Ibid., IV.lv: թշնամանեաց զտիկինն մեծապէս իբրև զբոզ մի. 64 Ibid.: Սկսաւ դնել թշնամանս ազգին արշակունեաց, զի վատախորհուրդք են վատանշանք, կորուսին աշխարհս եւս. 65 See Zakarian 2013a, pp. 11–19. 66 Markwart’s suggestion that initially P‘aṙanjem was perhaps Aršak’s concubine (1932, p. 231) is noteworthy here.


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dwellings would have been extremely dangerous, and even if successful, it could result in a full-scale military confrontation and, more so, in the extermination of a whole clan because all the major naxarar families had their own army. Marriage by payment, on the other hand, was the most convenient and socially approved way of marrying someone, for all the negotiations between the families prior to marriage would minimise the chances of possible future disputes over property and the right to inherit one’s status. In addition to marriage by varjank‘, other conjugal relationships among the members of the upper nobility are also attested. In particular, we find references by Armenian authors to polygyny and consanguineous marriages, which were very common amongst the Iranian elite. One of the first references to the practice of polygyny in ancient Armenia is Plutarch’s claim that when Lucullus advanced against the city of Artaxata, the young children and the wives of the Armenian King Tigranes the Great (reign ca 95–55 bce) were there.67 As mentioned earlier, the practice of consanguineous marriages is attested by Tacitus in his description of the events just before the establishment of the Arsacid dynasty in Armenia.68 Similar references, as we shall see below, are also made by early Christian Armenian authors, though they are not too keen on talking about it, if it is related to a powerful naxarar family. This fact bespeaks a certain continuity of these Zoroastrian customs in Christian Armenia, especially amongst the nobility. The study of Armenian sources sheds some light on how widespread these phenomena were and how they functioned in the emerging Christian society. If we consider the Armenian sources in chronological order, the first allusion to polygyny is found in Agat‘angełos’ History. As noted earlier, the pagan King Trdat is informed about the beauty of Hṙip‘simē and expresses his desire to marry her, even though in the ensuing episodes it is revealed that Trdat is married to Ašxēn, who is the queen of the realm.69 The author provides no comments on Trdat’s intention to take a second wife primarily because he is more concerned with extolling Hṙip‘simē’s determination to preserve her chastity. One might also argue that this episode is an indication of the heterogeneity 67 Plutarch 1914, Lucullus XXXI.2: ἐπεὶ δὲ προκαλούμενος εἰς μάχην αὐτούς περιταφρεύων τὸν χάρακα καὶ πορθῶν ἐν ὄψει τὴν χώραν οὐκ ἐκίνει πεπληγότας πολλάκις, ἀναστὰς ἐβάδιζεν ἐπ᾽ Ἀρτάξατα τὸ Τιγράνου βασίλειον, ὅπου καὶ παῖδες αὐτῷ νήπιοι καὶ γαμεταὶ γυναῖκες; “Then he challenged them to battle by encompassing their camp with a moat, and by ravaging their territory before their eyes; but this did not move them, so often had they been defeated. He therefore broke camp and marched against Artaxas, the royal residence of Tigranes, where were his wives and young children” (emphasis mine). 68 See Chapter 1. 69 See Chapter 3, especially n. 54.

Marriage in Early Christian Armenia


of Agat‘angełos’ text, for a Christian author would hardly miss such an opportunity to denounce this pagan practice. The Epic Histories contains several references to polygyny and consanguineous marriages. In one episode the efforts of St Nersēs to eradicate the practice of incestuous marriages in fourth-century Armenia are described: the compiler mentions Nersēs’ zeal to teach people that “above all [they ought] to refrain from incestuous marriages with close family relations within the clan, especially from intimacy with daughters-in-law or anything of the kind.”70 This seems to be another direct reference to the practice of stūr relationships. The same episode is also described by Xorenac‘i, who adds a valuable detail to it: “These two things he [St Nersēs] abolished from the princely families: first, the marriage of close relatives, which they practiced to restrict the noble class; and second, the crimes they committed over the dead according to the heathen custom.”71 Thomson’s “to restrict the noble class” does not fully render the Armenian vasn agaheloy sephakan azatut‘eann aṙnēin, which should be understood as ‘to restrict the noble class for the sake of accumulating possessions.’ This passage implies that these practices were common specifically among the nobility and their main function was to maintain the inalienability of the family property.72 There are other, however, somewhat equivocal passages in the Epic Histories, which might indicate the preservation of polygyny among the nobility in Armenia. In III.xxi the following lines are found: “And [the Persian king] made his [Tiran’s] son Aršak king over the realm of Armenia at that time. And he returned from captivity the king’s women and all the other prisoners, together with their treasures, gifts, and possessions.”73 Similarly, in V.xvi we are informed that “[h]e [the sparapet Mušeł] captured the bdeašx of Ałjnik‘, killed his wives in front of him, and took their children prisoner.”74 Garsoïan, 70 EH, IV.iv; եւ փախչել աւելի ի մերձաւոր եւ յազգին տոհմակից խառնակութեան 71

ամուսնութենէն. եւ մանաւանդ ի մերձաւորական ի նուոց, եւ որ գամ մի այսմ նման լեալ էր ինչ. MX, III.xx: Եւ զերկուսս զայսոսիկ յազգաց նախարարացն բառնայ. մի զմերձաւորաց խնամութիւն, զոր վասն ագահելոյ սեպհական ազատութեանն առնէին. եւ միւս՝ որ ի վերայ մեռելոց գործէին ոճիրս ըստ հեթանոսական սովորութեանն.

72 Orengo 2009, pp. 640 and 643. 73 EH, III.xxi: Յայնմ ժամանակի [արքայն Պարսից] թագաւորեցուցանէր զԱրշակ որդի նորա [Տիրանայ] ի վերայ աշխարհին Հայոց. եւ զկանայս թագաւորին 74

եւ զայլ գերին ամենայն, գանձիւք ընծայիւք եւ ստացուածովք հանդերձ, եւ միանգամայն դարձ առնէր ամենայն գերութեան. Ibid., V.xvi: Ձերբակալ արարեալ [զօրավարն Մուշեղ] զբդեաշխն Աղձնեաց, առ նմին կոտորեցին զկանայս, եւ զորդիս նոցա ի գերութիւն վարեցին.


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however, underlines the ambiguity in the two meanings of the word kanayk‘ used in these episodes: on the one hand, it can refer to a noble’s wives, while on the other hand, to the women who lived in his household and were under his protection.75 The next Armenian author who touches upon this topic is Ełišē, who attributes the following statement to the Persian King Yazkert II: The laws of holy matrimony which they [the Armenians] received from their forefathers according to Christian ritual shall be abrogated and abolished; instead of one wife they shall take many, so that the Armenian nation may increase and multiply. Daughters shall be [wives] for fathers, and sisters for brothers. Mothers shall not withdraw from sons, and grandchildren shall ascend the couch of grandparents.76 This passage, like many others in Ełišē’s narrative, is built on opposing the Persian way of life to the customs and traditions of the Armenian people. As it appears, for the Armenian cleric polygamy and incestuous marriages were a widespread phenomenon in Persia, whereas the Christian tradition of the Armenians was contrary to it. This concurs with Xorenac‘i’s abovementioned characterisation of this practice as “heathen”. In the Martyrdom of St Šušanik polygyny is also presented as a Persian practice. Šušanik’s husband, the Georgian bdeašx Vazgen, apostatises and returns from Persia with a second wife who happens to be the mother of the Persian king’s wife.77 This episode demonstrates one of the main functions of such marriages – establishment of political alliances.78 In addition, it is entirely plausible that by taking a second wife the newly converted person aspired to prove his devotion to Zoroastrian religion. 75 For a full discussion, see ibid., p. 267, n. 24, p. 286, n. 40, and p. 316, n. 3. 76 Ełišē, pp. 103–104 [52]: Կարճեսցին եւ արգելցին օրէնք սուրբ ամուսնութեան, զոր ունէին ի նախնեաց ըստ կարգի քրիստոնէութեանն. այլ փոխանակ ընդ կնոջ միոյ՝ բազում կանայս արասցեն. զի աճեցեալ բազմասցին ազգք Հայոց: Դստերք հարանց լինիցին, եւ քորք՝ եղբարց. մարք մի՛ ելցեն յորդւոց, այլ եւ թոռունք ելցեն յանկողինս հաւուց.

77 Muradyan 1996, p. 18 (I). 78 A similar episode is described in the Epic Histories (IV.l): եղեւ նա [Վահան Մամիկոնեանն] այնուհետեւ սիրելի Շապհոյ արքային, եւ ետ նա կին Վահանայ զՈրմիզդուխտ քոյր իւր. եւ շնորհեաց նմա բարձ եւ զպատիւ` որ նոցուն լեալ էր նախնեաց, եւ մտերիմ փեսայ արար զնա իւր թագաւորն; “he [Vahan Mamikonean] became so dear to King Šapuh that he gave his sister Ormizduχt to Vahan in marriage. He granted him the cushion and diadem that had formerly belonged to his ancestors, and made him his trusted son-in-law.”

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As regards the issue of close relatives getting married, it was of a great concern to the ecclesiastical authorities, for they earnestly strove to address this problem through religious canons which imposed tough measures against offenders. Thus, Canon XIII of Šahapivan reiterates the commandments condemning incestuous relationships, which Moses had received from the Lord79 and enumerates several, presumably most common, types of such practices in an Armenian context: “one must not marry his sister, or his sister’s daughter, or his brother’s daughter, or paternal aunt, or anyone else from his clan within four degrees of consanguinity.”80 As seen in previous examples, these practices are characterised as “pagan” and “of ungodly, unrighteous nations.”81 The person who commits such a crime “will be banished from the holy church,”82 and the priest who “blesses this union or attends the wedding will become their accomplice in the evil deed and must be removed from his office.”83 The canon continues with further measures of punishment for those who have been involved, in one way or another, in such a practice. Summing up, it is safe to conclude that despite the fact that polygamy in Armenia is attested in several sources, the presence of predominantly monogamous relationships in the same sources84 suggests that monogamy was the main marriage pattern followed by the Armenians. Polygamy, on the other hand, was a possible marital pattern especially amongst the nobility, who would deploy this practice for establishing alliances, in particular with the Persians. We can also assume that by the second half of the fifth century this practice had virtually disappeared amongst Christian Armenians, for there is no reference to it in the Šahapivan canons or other official documents of the 79 Lev. 18:6: “None of you shall approach anyone near of kin to uncover nakedness.” Deut. 27:20 and 22: “Cursed be anyone who lies with his father’s wife, because he has violated his father’s rights,” and “Cursed be anyone who lies with his sister, whether the daughter of his father or the daughter of his mother.” 80 Hakobyan 1964, p. 447: զքոյր կամ զքեռորդի կամ զեղբաւրորդի կամ զհաւրաքոյր 81 82 83 84

կամ զայլ ոք յազգի անդ իւրում մինչեւ ի չորրորդ ծնունդն կին զոք մի՜ իշխեսցէ առնել. Ibid., p. 446: ըստ սովորութեան հեթանոսաց եւ անաստուած եւ ամպարիշտ ազգացն. Ibid., pp. 447–448: եթե ոք ընդդիմացեալ աւրինացս եւ հաստատեալ կանոնիս … ընդ նոսին եղիցի եւ բաժին նորա եւ ի սրբոյ եկեղեցւոյ աւտարացեալ եղիցի. Ibid., p. 448: Եթէ ոք այնպիսեացն պսակ աւրհնեսցէ, կամ ի հարսանիս երթիցէ, կցորդ եղիցի չարեաց գործոց նոցա` եւ ի կարգէ պաշտաւնէից հեռացեալ եղիցի.

For instance, in the Epic Histories King Pap is presented as having only one wife – Queen Zarmanduxt (EH, V.xxxvii); in the same source we find Garegin, lord of the district of Ṙštunik‘, married to only Hamazaspuhi of the Mamikonean family (IV.lix).


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Armenian Church, which would otherwise attack Zoroastrian practices that did not conform with Christian teachings. Consanguineous marriages and marriages of in-laws, however, persisted, and the church felt obliged to intervene by introducing legislative measures. The fact that one of the most prominent Armenian intellectuals of the twelfth century, Catholicos Nersēs Šnorhali, once again addresses this issue in his General Epistle and restates the main concepts of the aforementioned canon of Šahapivan85 is a strong indication that the efforts of the church were not completely effective. 5


In Zoroastrian communities, widows, as well as orphaned minors, were under the protection of the agnatic family,86 and, as discussed above, through them the lineage of their deceased husband could be continued if no male offspring was left after the man’s death. In the New Testament87 and in early Christian texts, too, widows were perceived as a vulnerable group that required special attention.88 In the works of the Church Fathers, the institution of widowhood did not receive any negative evaluation, but they attempted to impose a specific set of rules that would regulate the behaviour of widows in society.89 Thus, only widows who were “undisciplined” were to be admonished.90 Armenian sources generally seem to share this approach. In the Epic Histories, for instance, we are informed that St Nersēs “gave relief and maintenance to widows, orphans, and the indigent, and the poor daily rejoiced with


Nersēs Šnorhali 1996, p. 63: “Let him [the priest] not marry relatives whose blood relationship is close, but let them be a full four degrees removed from each other.” Šnorhali then continues by explaining the importance of “four degrees.” 86 Perikhanian 1983a, p. 634. 87 1 Tim. 5:3–16. 88 For instance, in Polycarp’s To the Philippians (6.1) we find the following lines: “Also the presbyters must be compassionate, merciful to all, … looking after the sick, not neglecting the widow or orphan or one that is poor …” (Miller 2005, p. 50). See also APGL, p. 1524: χήρα, 2. 89 See, for instance, John Chrysostom’s commentary on 1 Cor. 7 in De Virginitate, where he discusses the issues concerning the marriage of widows, such as when a widow can marry for the second time, and when she is discouraged to do so (PG 48, 561–563); or, Didascalia Apostolarum 3.1–11 and 4.5–8 (Miller 2005, pp. 51–61). 90 Ibid., p. 59.

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him …”91 Furthermore, he had “asylums-for-widows and for-orphans” built in various parts of the country.92 In his turn, Łazar extols the widows of martyred nobles for their ability to suppress their bodily desires.93 About the same widows, Ełišē remarks that by enduring all the deprivations and tribulations they became again “brides of virtue, removing from themselves the opprorium [sic] of widowhood,”94 but he does not clarify what the ‘opprobrium of widowhood’ implies. In the absence of any other evidence, I will suggest that Ełišē here hints at the precarious social position of a widow who had no son, therefore she was forced to enter into a čakarīh union with an agnate from her husband’s family. As we saw in the case of P‘aṙanjem, such practices were not welcomed by the ecclesiastical authorities, and Ełišē’s position is in line with it. 6

Women in the Šahapivan Canons: Additional Remarks

The Šahapivan canons are a unique testimony to how the church perceived the position of women in society. Thus, Canon III presents women as men’s partners95 and stresses that “the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.”96 Not only does this biblical topos provide a legitimisation to the canon, but it also stresses the general approach adopted by the Armenian ecclesiastical authorities towards the relationships between men and women. For instance, the same canon imposes equal punishments on women and men for committing adultery.97 Moreover, according to Canon II the children of a priest, irrespective of their gender, should receive 91 EH, IV.iv: Այրեաց եւ որբոց եւ չքաւորաց հանգիստ եւ դարման առնէր, եւ աղքատք զօրհանապազ ընդ նմա ուրախ լինէին. 92 Ibid., V.xxxi: զայրենոցսն եւ զորբանոցսն. 93 ŁP, p. 161 [109]: Նոյնպէս եւ կանայք, որոց նահատակեալ մարտիրոսաց արքն, եւ այլոց կանանց, որոց էին ի կապանս արքն ի Հրեւ` բազում պարկեշտասէր առաքինութեամբ մի զմիով ելեւելս առնէին, զօր ամենայն մեռանելով ամենայն ախտից; “Likewise the women whose husbands had been martyred, and other women

94 95 96 97

whose husbands were imprisoned in Hrev, surpassed each other in purity and virtue, dying every day to their bodily passions.” Ełišē, p. 247 [202]: Այրիք որ ի նոսա էին՝ եղեն վերստին հարսունք առաքինութեան, եւ բարձին յանձանց զնախատինս այրութեանն. Cf. Gen. 2:18: “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner’.” 1 Cor. 7:4. Hakobyan 1964, pp. 432–433. Ibid., p. 434: եթէ այր եւ եթէ կին կանոն այդ կացցէ; “whatever man or woman that canon shall stand.”


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the same punishment for illicit sexual activities.98 Finally, Canons VIII–X forbid both men and women to practise witchcraft and sorcery, or appeal to soothsayers for help. In the case of violation of the canons, they will receive the same punishment.99 7


This discussion of Armenian marriage practices as described in early Christian Armenian sources enables us to draw several conclusions. Firstly, two sets of marriage customs can be singled out in pre- and early Christian Armenia: the local traditions, primarily maintained by the šinakans and the azats, and the Zoroastrian marriage practices predominantly followed by the elite of the society. The main marriage pattern approved by the representatives of all social groups was marriage by varjank‘, but bride theft and marriages of close relatives were also common. The church attempted to establish control over this important social institution and imposed tight restrictions on the last two practices by issuing a set of canons, which does not seem to have been wholly effective. However, as far as divorce was concerned, a significant aspect of the older, pre-Christian tradition, according to which the wife was to keep all her possessions after the divorce, was preserved. The overall discourse of the ecclesiastical authorities on the institution of marriage reveals a common tendency towards equal treatment of women and men. If we put it into the wider context of fifth-century Armenian literature, it is consistent with the general description of women as partners of men, working together towards fostering and preserving Christian values. 98 Ibid., pp. 430–432. 99 Ibid., pp. 440–442.

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Queenship in Arsacid Armenia 1


The fifth-century historiographical texts are our main source of information about the institution of queenship in the Arsacid period of Armenian history. They were composed after the abolition of the Arsacid kingdom and are primarily based on oral traditions. The precious memories which they have preserved allow us to meet only truly extraordinary queens whose agency had a great influence, either positive or negative, on the male-dominated public sphere or whose representation conveniently contributed to the ideological conceit of their oeuvre.1 The absence of ‘ordinary’ queens is therefore conspicuous. Notwithstanding this fact, the study of extant evidence enables us to discuss the extent and the nature of the queen’s power and authority in the male-centred naxarar society of Arsacid Armenia, to explore the conditions under which the queen’s authority was exercised, and to establish how differently her reign was perceived in comparison with the rule of a male monarch. The queen, as the consort of the king, derived her status and power from her spouse. Therefore, the surviving textual evidence on queens should be contextualised and evaluated alongside our knowledge of the king’s authority in naxarar Armenia. The juxtaposition of the two representations will make manifest the differences and similarities, if any, between these social institutions. Furthermore, despite the fact that these representations were produced by clerics long after Armenia’s Christianisation, the examination of the formulaic language portraying the rule and extent of power of an Arsacid king will reveal the pre-Christian roots of the symbolic attributes of the king’s authority. There is a notable absence of a Christian interpretation of royal power, which indicates the shallow hold of Christianity on the institution of kingship of which queenship was a derivative. For our investigation we should, in the first place, examine the Epic Histories, which contains details of the reigns of the Armenian queens P‘aṙanjem and her daughter-in-law Zarmanduxt. This valuable source describes the circumstances which were conducive to the rise of these queens to power and the degree of their authority in the absence of the king. It also mentions, though briefly, an unnamed queen of Armenia who is engaged in court intrigues. 1 For the surviving names of the Arsacid Armenian queens, see Toumanoff 1976, pp. 73–76.

© David Zakarian, 2021 | doi:10.1163/9789004445031_009


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Furthermore, we possess a small number of references to Queen Ašxēn in Agat‘angełos’ History, whose representation enhances, albeit to a lesser degree, our understanding of the involvement of the queen in the political life of the country. 2

The Queen’s Title

In classical Armenian sources of the fifth century, the king’s consort was mainly referred to as either tikin or bambišn. The latter was a loan word from Middle Persian, meaning ‘queen’,2 and was primarily used in connection with Persian queens, whereas the former, as discussed previously,3 was applied to refer to the senior female figure in the family and, in the case of the Arsacid dynasty, also to the queens of Armenia. In this meaning the word tikin corresponded to Greek βασίλισσα and Latin regina.4 Interestingly, none of the Arsacid queens is referred to as t‘aguhi ‘queen’ (feminine of t‘agawor ‘king’, literally ‘the one who wears the crown’) in the fifth-century histories, though this word is increasingly common in later texts.5 In this regard Movsēs Xorenac‘i’s History, in which both t‘aguhi and tikin are used to refer to the queens, is worth mentioning, for he uses the former title when talking about the Artaxiad Armenian Queen Sat‘inik,6 whereas the latter is found in a variety of contexts7 but, most importantly, with reference to the Arsacid Queen P‘aṙanjem.8 In Arsacid Armenia the title tikin also had strong religious overtones. In addition to being the title of goddess Anahit,9 it was also used for such prominent figures of early Armenian Christianity as St Thecla10 and St Sanduxt.11 Thus, it is not difficult to notice that the title tikin was deployed as a sign of female

2 3 4 5

6 7 8 9 10 11

See Sundermann 1989, p. 678. See Chapter 1. NBHL, p. 875. See, for instance, Smbat Sparapet’s thirteenth-century chronicle, in which he uses t‘aguhi to refer to the daughter of King Leo I, Zabel, who ascends the throne of Cilician Armenia after her father’s death (Agǝlean 1956, pp. 226, 229), though tikin is also found in the chronicle in connection with the king’s grandmother Šahanduxt (ibid., p. 240). MX, II:58. Ibid., I:15 (Queen Semiramis of Assyria) and III:67 (a Mamikonean lady called Dstrik). Ibid., III:35. Aa §53. See also Chapter 1. EH, IV.10. See also Calzolari 1997, pp. 48–49. MartThad, p. 46.

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authority delegated to her by her status in the family or society and it was this particular title that was used in reference to Arsacid queens of Armenia. 3

Symbolic Attributes of Authority

A comprehensive analysis of the representation of the Arsacid kings by Nina Garsoïan has convincingly shown that the legitimacy of the king’s authority was related to specific concepts of Zoroastrianism. In particular, the Arsacids of Armenia adopted “the transcendental Iranian virtues of p‘aṙk‘, baxt, and k‘aǰut‘iwn, together with the formulaic epithet ‘k‘aǰ aranc‘, most-valiantof-men’,”12 which were believed to be bestowed upon legitimate kings of the country by the divine will.13 The words p‘aṙk‘ and baxt were apparently introduced into Armenian from Parthian: the former corresponded to farr(ah) (Avestan xvarənah) meaning ‘glory’14 and the latter to baḵt (Avestan baxta) denoting ‘fortune, lot’.15 In the Zoroastrian tradition xvarǝnah, which was believed to have been the creation of the supreme divinity of the Zoroastrianism, Ahura Mazdā,16 was a significant religious concept closely related to the legitimacy of rulers. Initially, the seven Zoroastrian spirits of goodness, Amǝša Spentas (“Bounteous Immortals”),17 had the control of the royal xvarǝnah and could bestow it on the righteous and legitimate rulers, whereas in due course this prerogative was passed onto the water deity Apam-Napāt, then Anāhitā and the sun-god Mithra.18 As for baxt, there was no single divinity in Zoroastrianism that was in charge of bringing good fortune to the mortals. The main reason, perhaps, was the unquestionable tenet of Zoroastrianism that “each man is directly responsible for the fate of his own soul.”19 Nevertheless, numerous references to baxt in Parthian and Sasanian sources are symptomatic of its popularity. The counterpart of baxt in the Greco-Roman world was the goddess Tyche (Τύχη), who

12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

EH, p. 354. Ibid., pp. 515, 534–535, and 552. Gnoli 1999b. Eilers and Shaked 1989. See Humbach and Inchaporia 1998, pp. 30 (§9), 42 (§45). Ibid., p. 32 (§15). For Amǝša Spentas, see HZ I, pp. 202–205. Soudavar 2003, pp. 52–59. See also Zakarian 2013b, pp. 28–29. HZ I, p. 321.


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embodied ‘good luck’.20 The reverence for baxt, like that of Tyche,21 appears to have had its roots in ancient beliefs and with the passing of time baxt gradually became perceived as a spirit22 possessing supernatural powers to influence the strings of events in human life. Moreover, we should not dismiss the possibility that the veneration of baxt in the Armenian tradition could have been influenced by the cult of the Urartian god of fortune Huttuini, whose popularity on the Armenian Plateau is widely attested in the Urartian sources.23 Finally, early Armenian literature abounds with references to the supernatural valour (k‘aǰut‘iwn) of men, though a satisfactory explanation about the etymology of the adjective/noun k‘aǰ and its derivative, the abstract noun k‘aǰut‘iwn, is yet to be provided. According to Agat‘angełos, in the pre-Christian beliefs of the Armenians k‘aǰut‘iwn, which corresponded to the Greek ἀρετή or ἀνδρεία,24 was bestowed by the god Vahagn,25 who was one of the most revered gods of the Armenian pantheon. Despite being the Armenian counterpart of the Zoroastrian deity of victory Vǝrǝθraγna,26 the veneration of Vahagn and his representation also contained original elements from the Indo-European and Hurro-Urartian religious heritage of the Armenians.27 Moreover, Vahagn was often identified with the Greek legendary hero Heracles in the works of early Christian Armenian authors.28 In Christian literature, as indicated by Garsoïan, k‘aǰ was also deployed to describe the champions of God.29 Thus, in the mentality of the Armenians the rule of a legitimate and righteous king was accompanied by supernatural patronage of divinely bestowed glory (p‘aṙk‘), fortune (baxt), and valour (k‘aǰut‘iwn). However, being a legitimate heir to the throne did not guarantee their automatic bestowal. Only virtuous leaders who were champions of a righteous cause could be the recipients 20 21

22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29

See Matheson 1994a. Scholars also believe that Tyche is depicted on the Armenian Artaxiad coins dated to the first century bc (see Bedoukian 1968, p. 131; Nercessian 2009, p. 25). Cf. Matheson 1994b, p. 19: “Only gradually did chance, a random force over which one had no power, become a goddess who was something closer to Luck, which could be either bad or good, but whose good side could be invoked by making the proper gestures, whether by offering something to the goddess or by wearing her image or one’s lucky hat.” Cf. NBHL (1: 424), in which one of the meanings of baxt is ոգի իմն դիւական, ‘a daemonic spirit’. See Hmayakyan 1990, p. 47 and Zakarian 2013b, pp. 31–32. Garsoïan 1982, p. 157. Aa  §127: քաջութիւն հասցէ ձեզ ի քաջէն Վահագնէ; “May there be … valor from valiant Vahagn.” See, e.g., HZ I, pp. 54, 62–65. Russell 1987, pp. 209–215; Petrosyan 2004, pp. 212–214. For more details on the cult of Vahagn in Armenia, see Russell 1987, pp. 189–228. See Thomson’s note in Aa §127, p. 208, Thomson’s Introduction in MX, p. 20, and Zakarian 2013b, pp. 27–28. EH, p. 534; Garsoïan 1982, p. 157.

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of divine endowment. As indicated by Garsoïan,30 this is strongly supported by the representation of King Pap of Armenia, who appears to lack divine patronage owing to his “evil” character, as repeatedly emphasised by the compiler of the histories. In a similar way, in Agat‘angełos’ History King Trdat is deprived of the epithet k‘aǰ while he persecutes the Christians, but as soon as he is converted, he is again characterised as k‘aǰ.31 Returning to the Arsacid queens of Armenia, as I have demonstrated elsewhere, these symbolic attributes of authority represented only masculine virtues and were not applied to queens.32 Albeit an integral part of the state mechanism of Arsacid Armenia, the institution of queenship was perceived as lacking this supernatural patronage irrespective of the queen’s legitimacy, righteousness, and valour. While the king’s authority was justified and endorsed by divine elements, the legitimacy of the queen, and with it her authority, seem to have had a more ‘worldly’ nature, for none of the Armenian queens is said to have possessed, under any circumstances, the symbolic attributes of authority and power in the form of glory, fortune, and valour. The king’s wife was perceived as a legitimate queen with authority and certain powers only if she had entered into a complete (pātixšāīh) marriage with the king. Like any woman in Arsacid society, after becoming the consort of the king, she would pass under the protection of her husband’s family and become the tantikin of the Arsacid house, unless the queen mother was still alive, thus assuming the authority that her new position granted her. This is observed in the aforementioned episode when the hayr-mardpet enters Artagers during the siege, insults P‘aṙanjem, and berates the Aršakunis: “‘Justly,’ he said ‘has all of this come upon you, and [also] that which shall come’.”33 These words suggest that P‘aṙanjem is perceived as one of the Aršakuni, who were considered to be the only legitimate rulers of Armenia.34 Despite the queen’s dependence on her husband and his family, an episode from the Epic Histories provides us with an interesting insight into the symbolic significance of the queen for the realm and its people. After crushing the resistance of the Armenian army and taking captive Queen P‘aṙanjem, King Šapuh II of Persia decides, in the words of the historian, “to insult the race of the realm and kingdom of Armenia” and for this reason he targets the queen: 30 31

Garsoïan 1981, p. 44. See, e.g., Aa §17: քաջ արանց Տրդատ արքայ Հայոց մեծաց; “most valiant of men, Trdat, king of Greater Armenia”; and in  §892: քաջդ արանց Տրդատ; “most valiant of men, Trdat”; while in §47, for instance, he is merely referred to as Տրդատ արքայ Հայոց մեծաց (“Trdat, the king of Greater Armenia”). 32 Zakarian 2013 and 2018. 33 EH, IV.lv: իրաւի անց ընդ ձեզ այդ, եւ այլ զի անցցէ. 34 Ibid., p. 517; see under bnak tēr.


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he [Šapuh] ordered all of his troops, magnates, base-born, and all of the men of the realm under his dominion assembled together, and he brought P‘aṙanjem queen of Armenia into this mob. And he ordered a device for debauchery erected in the public-square and had the woman thrown into it. And he delivered Queen P‘aṙanjem to foul and beastly copulation. And in this fashion they killed P‘aṙanjem the queen.35 The queen’s brutal murder is perceived as a terrible insult hurled at the Armenians: she is dishonoured and so are her people. This appears to be the main reason why P‘aṙanjem’s role in Armenian history is obscured by subsequent generations of historians, and the details of her death are changed. In particular, Movsēs Xorenac‘i and Step‘anos Tarōnec‘i (tenth-eleventh centuries) are silent about P‘aṙanjem’s rape and instead claim that the Persians killed her by impaling her body on a wagon pole.36 The only exception is Mxit‘ar Anec‘i (thirteenth century), who mentions that Šapuh “had the mother of Pap, P‘aṙanjem, put to an ignominious death that should not be remembered”.37 It is noteworthy that in an earlier episode the compiler of the Epic Histories evaluates the capture of the wives of Šapuh by the Greek emperor in terms which betray a similar attitude towards the symbolic value of the queen’s honour.38 After unsuccessful military operations Šapuh allegedly hastens to 35 EH, IV.lv: Եւ իբրեւ կամեցաւ թագաւորն Պարսից Շապուհ թշնամանս առնել


ազգին աշխարհին Հայոց եւ թագաւորութեանն, ետ հրաման ժողովել զամենայն զզօրս իւր եւ զմեծամեծս իւր եւ զփոքունս եւ զամենայն մարդիկ աշխարհին իւրոյ` որ ինքն իշխէր, եւ ի մէջ ամբոխին ածել զտիկինն Հայոց զՓառանձեմն: Եւ հրամայեաց ի հրապարակին իմն առնել հրապոյրս մեքենայից, որով հրամայեաց զկինն արկանել, եւ արձակել տիկնոջն Փառանձեմայ ի խառնակութիւն պոռնկութեանն անասնական պղծութեանն: Այսպէս սատակեցին զտիկինն զՓառանձեմ. MX, III.35: Զորս գերեալ հանդերձ գանձիւքն եւ տիկնաւն Փառանձեմաւ խաղացուցին ի յԱսորեստան. եւ անդ ընդ սայլի ցից հանեալ՝ սատակեցին;

“Taking them captive with the treasures and Queen P‘aṙandzem they brought them to Assyria. And there they massacred them by impaling them on wagon poles”; Step‘anos Tarawnec‘i 2012, II.1: Եւ պաշարեալ Մերուժանայ զամուրն Արտագերից` առնու զնա եւ հանէ զ Փառանձեմ, ըստ պարսկական աւրինաց` ընդ ցից սայլի; “And Meružan besieged the fortress of Artagers; he seized it and impaled P‘aṙanjem, according to the Persian custom, between the shaft of a wagon” (Greenwood 2017, p. 140). 37 Mxit‘ar Anec‘i 1879, xxiii, p. 31: Նա [Շապուհն] եւ զմայր Պապայ, զՓառանձեմ, նախատամահ եւ անյիշելի մահուամբ սատակէ. 38 This account contains many inconsistences in chronology and prosopography, and it is not clear how accurately the historical events are reflected in it. Garsoïan discusses the problems related to this episode in the notes to III.xxi (EH, pp. 264–267; see especially notes 1, 4, 16, 21, and 23).

Queenship in Arsacid Armenia


negotiate the terms of the truce “so that he should at least free his wives from captivity and [so] release him from this infamous and opprobrious shame”.39 This evidence suggests that, in spite of being devoid of supernatural patronage, symbolically the queen represented the honour of her subjects, as in patriarchal societies the wife represented the honour of her husband and his family.40 4

The Queen’s Authority

The right to exercise power given to the queen by her position is well attested yet again in the Epic Histories. In particular, the account of the reign of Queen Zarmanduxt in the second half of the fourth century, albeit inherently biased due to the anonymous editor’s general tendency towards glorifying the Mamikonean family,41 reveals intriguing aspects of the queen’s authority. As we shall see, the widowed queen assumes legal authority, apparently delegated to her by customary law, and gets involved in making significant political decisions regarding the realm. After the murder of King Pap, the commander-in-chief of the Armenian army, Manuēl Mamikonean, assumes authority as the regent of the young princes Aršak and Vałaršak, and becomes the most powerful person in the realm, exercising enormous political power.42 He is the protagonist of the ensuing events, for the narrator claims that Manuēl “wielded authority and gave orders to the realm in the place of the king,” “kept the realm prosperous,” and “guided the realm of Armenia with great wisdom and great success as long as he lived.”43 In the meanwhile, the widow of the king, Queen Zarmanduxt, is repeatedly presented as holding no real power and fully obedient to the will of Manuēl. 39 Ibid.: Եւ ինքն [Շապուհ] ի զղջումն եկեալ վասն իրացն եղելոց, ապա արձակէր

40 41 42 43

զիշխանսն պատուականս ի հնազանդութիւն խաղաղութեան վասն գերեդարձ առնել ի կայսերէն միւսանգամ, եւ այնուհետեւ աղօթակերս արձակել ի հաշտութիւն խաղաղութեան խօսել ընդ կայսերն, զի գոնեայ զկանայս իւր արձակեսցէ ի գերութենէն, եւ բարձցէ ի նմանէ զծանակութեանցն զդսրովութեանցն նախատինս.

For more on this, see Chapter 8. See Garsoïan’s discussion in EH, p. 3. Ibid., V.xxxvii. Ibid.: եւ [սպարապետն զօրավարն Հայոց Մանուէլ] վարէր զիւր իշխանութիւնն,

եւ տայր հրաման աշխարհի փոխանակ թագաւորի. եւ ունէր զաշխարհ ի շինութեան … Մեծաւ իմաստութեամբ եւ բազում յաջողութեամբ աշխարհին Հայոց մեծապէս առաջնորդէր, որչափ եկաց ժամանակս.


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Notwithstanding this, a closer look at the passages where the interaction of the queen and the sparapet are described reveals a subtly different state of affairs. Despite the compiler’s unreserved praise for Manuēl’s ability to govern, the wording of these stories clearly demonstrates that the commander-in-chief was obliged to take into account the queen’s authoritative position and receive her approval for his plans before acting on behalf of the princes and the realm in general. This can be seen in the episode when Manuēl realises that the Greeks are not happy with his actions and with the newly emerged situation in Armenia. In this climate of mutual mistrust, attempting to avoid potentially grave repercussions, Manuēl decides to seek the protection and support of the Persian court. However, as the anonymous historian informs us, before initiating this diplomatic move, Manuēl consults the queen about his intention and they together come to the decision “to seek the support of the Persian king.”44 It appears that although forging a new alliance with the Persians is Manuēl’s initiative, his rank does not provide him with the authority to negotiate with the Sasanian king on his own and he needs the authoritative approval of the queen. A similar pattern is present in the subsequent passage, when a delegation is sent to the shah to negotiate Armenia’s submission: “Queen Zarmanduxt and the sparapet Manuēl sent Garǰoyl małxaz with many Armenian naxarars as well as letters-patent, gifts, and presents to the king of Persia …”45 Thus, here, too, the queen of Armenia directly participates in this momentous event for the country, which allows us to assume that, in the absence of the king, no serious decision is taken in the realm of Armenia without the queen’s official endorsement. This authority of Queen Zarmanduxt is also recognised by the king of Persia. After agreeing to support the Armenians, he sends “a crown, a robe-of-honour, and the royal standard” to Zarmanduxt and “crowns for her two young sons,

44 Ibid.: Բայց յորժամ տեսանէր Մանուէլն` զոր ինչ գործեացն ընդդէմ էր հրամանաց թագաւորին Յունաց, ածեալ զմտաւ իւրով` թէ արժան է նմա գէթ զմի ոք թիկունս առնել նմա, ապա խորհեցան խորհուրդ ընդ տիկնոջն, եւ կամեցաւ թիկունս առնել զարքայն Պարսից; “But when Manuēl saw that whatever

he did ran counter to the orders of the king of the Greeks, he judged it fitting to find one person at least to give him support. He then took the counsel with the queen and they decided to seek the support of the Persian king” (emphasis mine). 45 Ibid., V.xxxviii: Ապա յետ այսորիկ առաքեցին Զարմանդուխտ տիկինն Հայոց եւ սպարապետն Մանուէլ զԳարջոյլ Մաղխազ, եւ ընդ նմա զբազումս ի նախարարացն Հայոց, հրովարտակօք` ընձայիւք եւ պատարագօք առ թագաւորն Պարսից …

Queenship in Arsacid Armenia


Aršak and Vałaršak”.46 This gesture was an unmistakable sign of the king’s acknowledgement of Zarmanduxt’s authority in the realm. The following passages are also revealing with regard to the queen’s authority: And thereafter, the Armenian commander-in-chief Manuēl together with his entire contingent placed at their head Queen Zarmanduxt the wife of King Pap, and they displayed her all around in place of the king.47 […] the sparapet and the commander-in-chief Manuēl went with the Aršakuni queen and her two children, Aršak and Vałaršak, to the district of Karin, together with the entire Armenian army, the highest nobility and the naxarars, and all the tanutērs went with them. The sparapet Manuēl gave his daughter Vardanduxt in marriage to the young Aršak Aršakuni and thus made him his son-in-law.48 These details about Zarmanduxt’s queenship amply demonstrate that a widowed queen with underage children would temporarily become the head of the state and would be recognised by everyone as such. She would then act as a regent for the future king, who would accede to the throne as soon as he came of age. In Agat‘angełos’ narrative of the Christianisation of Armenia another aspect of the queen’s authority is presented. After the conversion, King Trdat is said to be assisting St Gregory with his task of building churches and spreading the new religion in the realm. As previously mentioned, Agat‘angełos continually stresses that Trdat is accompanied everywhere by Queen Ašxēn and by his 46 Ibid.: Եւ ընդ նմա առաքէր յերկիրն Հայոց զՍուրէն պարսիկ մի ճոխ եւ

47 48

նախարարացն իւրոց. եւ ընդ նմա յղեաց տասն հազար հեծեալս վառեալս սպառազէնս, զի երթիցէ Սուրէն յաշխարհն Հայոց ի թիկունս օգնականութեան զօրավարին Մանուէլի, եւ պահել ի թշնամեաց զտիկինն զԶարմանդուխտ: Եւ ետ թագաւորն Պարսից տանել ի ձեռն Սուրենայ թագ եւ պատմուճան, եւ զվառ թագաւորացն տիկնոջն Զարմանդխտոյ, եւ թագս մանկանցն որդւոցն երկոցունց Արշակայ եւ Վաղարշակայն. Ibid.: Եւ յայնմ հետէ զօրավարն Հայոց Մանուէլ հանդերձ ամենայն գնդաւն զտիկին Զարմանդուխտ զկին թագաւորին Պապայ ի գլուխ առեալ, ի տեղի թագաւորացն շրջեցուցանէին. Ibid., V.xliv: Ապա յետ այսր ամենայնի զօր արարեալ զօրավարն սպարապետն Մանուէլ, հանդերձ արշակունի տիկնաւն, եւ մանկամբքն երկոքումբք` Արշակաւն եւ Վաղարշակաւն, հանդերձ ամենայն բանակաւն Հայոց մեծամեծ աւագայնովն նախարարօքն եկեալ հասանէր ի գաւառն Կարնոյ. եւ ամենայն տանուտեարք ընդ նմա: Եւ տայր սպարապետն Մանուէլ զդուստր իւր Վարդանդուխտ կին Արշակայ մանկանն արշակունոյ, եւ փեսայ իւր առնէր զնա.


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sister Xosroviduxt, who appear next to the king in public spaces and support him in his pious endeavours.49 Agat‘angełos is only too willing to emphasise the royal women’s active participation in this momentous event by making their presence by the side of the king particularly visible to his audiences. In general, Queen Ašxēn is presented as a dutiful spouse who carries out the king’s orders without any objection. In spite of this, she constantly appears in the political arena where landmark decisions are made, though the extent of her influence is not clear. Ašxēn, for instance, attends an important gathering where the leader of the newly founded Armenian Church is to be elected by the representatives of different layers of society. Agat‘angełos imparts the fact that the queen has joined Trdat and his sister in issuing the order to summon the crucial meeting.50 Moreover, the queen’s name also appears in a putative letter to Leontius, bishop of Caesarea, in which her authority is asserted in the invocation of those in whose name that official letter is being despatched: “by God’s mercy and through your prayers we send you greetings – I, king Tiridates with all the army of Greater Armenia, and queen Ašxēn and princess [literally ‘the great lady’] Xosroviduxt”.51 In his equally putative response Leontius uses a similar form of address: “to Tiridates king of Greater Armenia and queen Ašxēn and princess Xosroviduxt, and all the general populace of Greater Armenia”.52 Moreover, there is a noticeable tendency in the presentation of Ašxēn and Xosroviduxt that allows us to draw additional conclusions regarding the authority of the queen. The author follows a specific order of mentioning the names of these two members of the royal family when they appear together. Xosroviduxt’s name tends to appear after Ašxēn’s name as if the author 49 See Chapter 3 and Aa, §§761, 765, and 766. 50 Ibid., §791: Իսկ թագաւորն Տրդատիոս հանդերձ միաբանութեամբ կնաւ իւրով Աշխէն տիկնաւ, եւ քերբ իւրով Խոսրովիդխտով, հրաման ետ ի ժողով կոչել միաբանութեամբ ամենայն զօրաց իւրոց … Եւ կուտեցան առ հասարակ զօրքն ամենայն, եւ մեծամեծք եւ կուսակալք, գաւառակալք, պատուաւորք, պատուականք, զօրավարք, պետք եւ իշխանք, նախարարք եւ ազատք, դատաւորք եւ զօրագլուխք, եւ հասեալ կային առաջի թագաւորին: “The king

Tiridates, with his wife, queen Ašxēn, and his sister Xosroviduxt, ordered a gathering to be summoned of all his army … The whole army came together, and the magnates and prefects, provincial governors, dignitaries and notables, generals, leaders and nobles, princes and freemen, judges and officers; and they mustered before the king …” Cf. Vg, §116: “Then Tiridates set out for the land of Ayrarat, in order that in concert with the queen and his sister and the other magnates they might plan for a priest to become their pastor and they might participate in holy baptism.” 51 Aa, §800: մեք յողորմութենէ Տեառն աղօթիւք ձերովք առցուք ողջոյն, Տրդատիոս 52

թագաւոր ամենայն զօրօք երկրիս Հայոց մեծաց, եւ Աշխէն տիկին, եւ օրիորդ մեծ Խոսրովիդուխտ. Ibid., §820: Տրդատէս թագաւոր Հայոց մեծաց եւ Աշխէն տիկին եւ օրիորդ մեծ Խոսրովիդուխտ.

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deliberately emphasises the queen’s superior position to the king’s sister.53 A similar hierarchical order of reference can be observed in those cases when Ašxēn and Xosroviduxt are mentioned alongside Trdat, when the latter is invariably mentioned first, followed by the queen and then the princess. Only St Gregory is given higher priority in relation to the king and the rest of his family54 for his pivotal role as the evangeliser and saviour of Armenia.55 Agat‘angełos thus follows the conventional understanding of hierarchical relationships of his time and places the queen immediately after the king, for there is ample evidence suggesting that strict hierarchy was a characteristic feature of early medieval Armenian society, which was effectively reflected in the works of early Armenian historians.56 The aforementioned examples evince the presence and participation of the queen in important political processes, but it is unclear to what degree she was entitled to influence them from her position. The account of the life and reign of Queen P‘aṙanjem may help us shed some light on this issue. 5

The Exercise of Power

As discussed in the previous chapter, P‘aṙanjem becomes the Queen of Armenia and assumes authority after the return of King Aršak to the throne becomes impossible, and it is her son Pap who asserts the right to become Armenia’s next king. However, when he was very young, Pap was sent to the Greek court as a hostage,57 and to assume full authority as king he needs to 53

There is only one exception when Xosroviduxt is named before Ašxēn but apparently it is done for stylistic reasons: Ինքնին թագաւորն Տրդատ քերբն Խոսրովիդխտով հանդերձ եւ Աշխէն տիկնաւ; “King Trdat himself and his sister Xosroviduxt and queen Ašxēn” (ibid., §766). Because earlier in exactly the same paragraph Agat‘angełos has already used the ‘right’ order: the king, the queen, and the king’s sister, here he chooses to avoid repeating the same structure. 54 We find St Gregory advising or giving orders to Trdat and other nobles on several occasions: see, for instance, §§767, 773, 777, and 828–829. 55 The emphasis on St Gregory’s primacy is also easily understandable in the light of the historical situation contemporary to the text’s writing when Armenia did not have a monarch and the church was attempting to become a supreme unifying institution amongst the Armenians. 56 Adontz 1970, p. 214. 57 EH, IV.xv: Բայց ծնաւ ապա Փառանձեմ թագաւորին ուստր մի, եւ կոչեցին զանուն նորա Պապ, եւ սնուցին զնա եւ ի չափ հասուցին: Եւ իբրեւ ջրթափեաց եւ եղեւ հուժկու, ետուն զնա պադանդ ի դուռն կայսերն յերկիրն Յունաց; “But then P‘aṙanjem bore a boy to the king and he was called Pap, and he was nursed and raised to manhood. And when he reached puberty and became strong, he was sent as a hostage to the court of the emperor in the land of the Greeks.”


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return to Armenia, which will eventually happen only after his mother’s tragic demise. In the meantime, P‘aṙanjem becomes the sole legitimate ruler in the country and the subsequent unfolding of the events offers us substantial evidence of the extent of the queen’s real power. The land of Armenia, bereft of her king and the commander-in-chief who was also captured and killed by the Persians, becomes a vulnerable target for King Šapuh, who sends a large army to conquer and ravish it. In the episode which relates the arrival of the Persian army in Armenia, P‘aṙanjem, for the first time in the Epic Histories, is referred to as “the queen of the realm of Armenia”.58 She is depicted as having assumed strong political and military leadership, putting up resistance to the advance of the enemy army. According to the narrator, when the queen of the realm of Armenia P‘aṙanjem, the wife of Aršak king of Armenia, saw that the army of the Persian king was coming and filling the realm of Armenia, she took with her some eleven thousand select armoured, warlike azats, and together with them she avoided the Persian forces, sought [refuge] and entered the fortress of Artagers in the land of Aršarunik‘.59 It is noteworthy that the Armenian compiler of the Epic Histories, who seems to be fully aware of customary law and who often recalls it when unlawful deeds are perpetrated,60 expresses no indignation or surprise regarding the queen’s exercise of power in this episode. On the contrary, he emphasises the fact that throughout the siege, which lasted about fourteen months, the atmosphere in the fortress was convivial with men feasting in the presence of the queen. This episode suggests that P‘aṙanjem’s actions were considered to be entirely legitimate both by the army, for they followed her orders, and by the narrator of the story, who in this episode speaks of the queen with an air of admiration.

58 Ibid., IV.lv: տիկին աշխարհին Հայոց. 59 Ibid.: իբրեւ ետես տիկին աշխարհին Հայոց կինն Արշակայ թագաւորին Հայոց


Փառանձեմ զզօրս թագաւորին Պարսից, եթէ եկին լցին զաշխարհս Հայոց, առեալ ընդ իւր մարդիկ իբրեւ մետասան հազար ազատս ընտիրս սպառազէնս պատերազմողս, եւ հանդերձ նոքօք դիմեաց եմուտ ի բերդն Արտագերից` որ ի յերկրին Արշարունեաց` յերեսաց զօրացն Պարսից.

There are several episodes in which P‘aṙanjem herself is chastised for her actions, which are deemed to be violating the awrēnk‘: see, for instance, EH, IV.xv and V.xxii, and the discussion in Zakarian 2013a, pp. 12–13, 18.

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Court Intrigues

The Arsacid queen’s exercise of power is further demonstrated through the accounts of court intrigues in which they were engaged. The most striking episode in this respect is P‘aṙanjem’s conspiracy to murder Queen Olympias, though P‘aṙanjem is not yet the queen but merely the čakarīh wife of the king. It is not difficult to perceive the motive behind this connivance, for should Olympias give birth to a male heir, P‘aṙanjem’s son Pap will lose his right to the Arsacid throne. And so, when no way could be found to infect her with a deadly poison, the iniquitous P‘aṙanjem then persuaded a certain priest from the royal court named Mrǰiwnik from a locality in Aršamunik‘, from the province of the district of Tarōn, who was there at the time. And he performed an unworthy, unprecedented, unatonable, evilly sinful and unforgettable deed [worthy of eternal] torments – [a deed that was] unworthy, never seen, and unheard of: that is, to mix into the draught of life the draught of death. [It was] a deed such as had never been performed by anyone anywhere on earth. A mortal poison was mixed into the holy and divine Body of the Lord, into the bread of the Eucharist, and in the church the priest named Mrǰiwinik gave [this] death-dealing thing to Queen Ołompi, and so killed her. Filled with evil, he carried out the will of the consummately evil P‘aṙanjem.61 As a reward for his services, P‘aṙanjem presents Mrǰiwinik with a whole village.62 This allows us to assume that P‘aṙanjem owed considerable assets 61 EH, IV.xv: եւ եթէ ոչ ինչ գտանէին հնարք դեղել զնա մահուան դեղօքն, ապա դրան երէց ոմն արքունի` որ էր ի ժամանակին յայն, որում անուն Միջիւնիկ,


յԱրշամունեաց տեղեացն ի նահանգէն Տարօն գաւառէն, զնա ի բանս արկանէր Փառանձեմն անօրէնն: Զանարժանս զանկատար զանջնջելի զչարեացն մեղացն չմոռացական տանջանացն կատարեաց զգործսն զանարժանս զանտես զանլուր, այս ինքն ընդ կենաց դեղն զդեղ մահուն խառնելով. որ ուրեք երբէք այսպիսի գործք յումեքէ ի վերայ երկրի ոչ գործեցան: Ընդ տէրունական ընդ սուրբ ընդ աստուածական մարմինն ընդ հացն օրինաց խառնէին զդեղն սատակման, երէցն Մրջիւնիկ անուն, տալով յեկեղեցւոջն Ողոմպիայ տիկնոջն ընձեռել զմահուն գործ, եւ սպանանէր: Ըստ չարեացն կատարելոց զՓառանձեմայն ամենայն չարեօք լցեալ զկամս կատարէր. Ibid.: եւ յանօրէնն Փառանձեմայն պարգեւ առեալ չերիցուն զգեւղն` ուստի իսկ ինքն էր ի նահանգէն Տարօն գաւառէն, որում անուն Գոմկունք կոչին; “And the

false priest received as a gift from the iniquitous P‘aṙanjem the village called Gomkunk‘, from which he came, in the province and district of Tarōn.”


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ostensibly transferred to her after her husband’s death, though we should not exclude the possibility that these possessions were part of her dowry. Not only does P‘aṙanjem escape punishment for her crime, but she also continues to live in the court, exercising significant influence in the royal household.63 Moreover, a few episodes later P‘aṙanjem contributes to the downfall of Vardan, the lord of the influential Mamikonean house, by confirming to King Aršak the accusation of the commander-in-chief Vasak that Vardan wished the king’s dethronement. P‘aṙanjem’s intervention into this affair is explained in the following words: [P‘aṙanjem did this] on account of the grudge she bore against Vardan, because Vardan had been the one who had invited her husband Gnel deceitfully, treacherously, and with great oaths at the time that King Aršak killed him. On account of this, his wife still nursed this grudge within herself and incited the king all the more against [Vardan].64 This points to the fact that not only could P‘aṙanjem be present at the consultation of the king with the commander-in-chief, but she could also have certain influence on the decisions that they were to make. In another episode, the unnamed Arsacid queen of Greater Armenia, the wife of King Xosrov Kotak (ca 330–338), seems to have been implicated in a conspiracy to kill Patriarch Vrt‘anēs, who allegedly rebuked the queen “for her secret adultery and dissolute ways”.65 Since the assassination was planned by the men “from the families and races of the evil pagan-priests,”66 presumably from the clan of the Vahuni,67 it is not unlikely that the queen was a sympathiser of Zoroastrianism, which had only recently been substituted by Christianity as the official religion of the state. The plot was uncovered and the 63

According to Movsēs Xorenac‘i, P‘aṙanjem also has Vałinak Siwni murdered so that her father Andovk (Xorenac‘i calls him Antiochus) will take his place (MX, III:xxiv). This detail, however, is not found in the Epic Histories. 64 EH, IV.xviii: Վասն զի ունէր նա զոխսն զայն ընդ Վարդանայ, զի նենգութեամբ

65 66

եւ դաւով եւ մեծաւ երդմամբ սա այս Վարդան կոչեաց զԳնէլն զայր նորա, յորժամ սպանանէր զնա թագաւորն Արշակ: Իսկ կինն զնոյն ոխութիւնս պահէր նմա, վասն այնորիկ աւելի եւս գրգռէր կինն թագաւորին ի վերայ նորա. Ibid., III.iii: վասն զի յանդիմանէր զնա սուրբն վասն գաղտնի շնութեան գիջութեան բարոյից պոռնկութեան. Ibid.: որք էին տոհմք եւ ազգք աշխարհակերք աշխարնաւերք ժանդագործք քրմացն.

67 This suggestion is made by Garsoïan, who notes that according to Movsēs Xorenac‘i (MX, II.ii) the Vahuni held the hereditary office of the Zoroastrian magi (EH, pp. 246– 247, n. 14).

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conspirators were arrested when attempting to kill Vrt‘anēs. According to the narrator, the patriarch forgave them and “brought them to the faith and sent them forth purified and believing”.68 What happened to the queen remains unclear, but this episode suggests that the queen held sufficient power and connections to engage in political intrigues against the religious leader of the country. In this case, the queen’s power apparently stemmed from the weak personality of the king, which is attested by Movsēs Xorenac‘i.69 7


The scant textual evidence on the institution of queenship in the maledominated society of Arsacid Armenia does not allow us to reach conclusions that will fully elucidate all aspects of the queen’s authority and power. The main difficulty lies in the fact that the Armenian authors make reference to the queens only when their agency is deemed exemplary or subversive, or when a crisis situation in which the queens are involved arises. Nevertheless, on the basis of several recurring motifs reasonable inferences can still be made. In spite of the fact that her authority was believed to lack the supernatural endorsement of p‘aṙk‘, baxt, and k‘aǰut'iwn, the Arsacid Queen of Armenia appears to have enjoyed an authoritative status which was delegated to her by her complete marriage to the king or by her being the king’s mother. Her legitimacy was acknowledged by the title of tikin (‘the great lady, the queen’) which gave her the authority to participate in the political life of the country. In the absence of the king, the queen would normally assume authority as head of state, but only temporarily until the legitimate heir ascended the throne. This authority would, nonetheless, be substantial, allowing her to exercise considerable power and influence not only in the royal household but also beyond its boundaries. The affairs of state were, however, the prerogative of the king and other influential male magnates of the country. The mere fact that only extraordinary queens were commemorated in the works of Armenian historians suggests that only in exceptional cases would the queen acquire sufficient power to foster significant developments in the political life of the country. 68 Ibid., III.iii: ի հաւատ խառնէր, եւ արձակէր սրբեալս եւ հաւատացեալս. 69 MX, III.8.

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Violence against Women 1


Violence, especially perpetrated against women in the public and domestic spheres, has been endemic to the human race throughout world history. Early Christian sources contain a large number of references to women and men who experienced different degrees of maltreatment and abuse for their faith.1 Hagiographic texts, in particular, abound with lurid descriptions of blood and gore with hyperbole being used as the main rhetorical figure to capture the imagination of the audiences.2 As pointed out by Lucy Grig, the inclusion of such a large number of descriptions of torture and extreme brutality against Christians primarily contributed to “creating the martyr, the witness, and thus the paradigmatic Christian identity in the early church.”3 In Karen Winstead’s words, the “instruments of torture designed to erase identity”, so meticulously described by early Christian authors, were ultimately “used to proclaim identity”,4 a new identity of faithful Christians. In this chapter, our focus will be primarily on the historiographical sources which have preserved accounts of violence towards women within the context of historical developments, especially during wars and military confrontations. Similar to the authors of hagiographies, Early Christian Armenian historians were also keen on forging a “paradigmatic Christian identity” by interpreting historical events in a way that would warrant the forging and maintenance of Christian Armenian identity, frequently employing the discourse of hagiographical texts. There are, nevertheless, certain distinctions which should be noted before we proceed. In particular, in hagiographical texts the individuality of the martyrs was very often blurred through the extensive use of clichés and common topoi which were intended “to bring out the saints’ resemblance to one another and to Christ”.5 Moreover, the narratives would invariably be constructed in such a way that the martyrs were the main protagonists and their martyrdom 1 See, for instance, Eusebius 1932, VIII.iii, vi–xii, xiv. 2 For the discussion of the role of hyperbole in the early Christian martyrological texts in the context of historical analysis, see Heffernan 1988, pp. 57–61. 3 Grig 2002, p. 334. 4 Winstead 1998, p. 12. 5 Ibid., pp. 1–3.

© David Zakarian, 2021 | doi:10.1163/9789004445031_010

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was the climax of the story. As it has been mentioned several times in the present volume, the Armenian historians routinely relied on such narratives, consciously deploying them as a source of inspiration for their models for the description of certain events and characters. Despite that, more often than not, historical accounts of violence, due to their ‘historical’ nature, contain unique details which, in a relative sense, more accurately portray the ordeal of the victims and allow us to reconstruct some aspects of their lived reality. The context of the committed violence, the imagery created to describe it, and the intentions of the perpetrators also differ. Thus, in the historical narratives, which we shall discuss for the purposes of the present study, high-ranking women frequently become victims of the confrontation between the conflicting sides and suffer the negative consequences of their enmity. Occasionally, we come across captive women portrayed as a tool in the hands of the captors who would exploit them to dictate their terms to the hostile party. In other instances, these women would be sexually abused and brutally killed, with the perpetrators aiming to humiliate and demoralise the adversary. These events form part of a main narrative and are described in a language that resembles that of the hagiographical narratives but is often devoid of commonly used stock phrases and imagery. The discussion of these passages will, therefore, offer us a glimpse into the lived reality of ‘real’ women, allow us to discover interesting aspects of the mentality of the Armenian people in the fourth-fifth centuries, and reveal the stance of that society on the violence inflicted upon women. 2

The System of Honour and Shame

Before turning to the primary sources a brief remark should be made about certain customary attitudes amongst the Armenians, and, in particular, the concepts of honour and shame, which were fundamental notions that ensured the social viability of an individual and his family, but at the same time represented the discourse which was conducive to the creation and reinforcement of gender inequality in society.6 Honour was believed to be the key social and cultural constituent which determined one’s respectability and consequently the status and position in society, while the loss of honour would seriously

6 Lindisfarne 1998, p. 250.


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jeopardise it.7 Bearing this in mind, it becomes easier to understand the interpretations provided by the authors and the decisions the protagonists made. As we have already seen in connection with P‘aṙanjem’s tragic death, the queen symbolically represented the honour of her people and of the realm in general. Similarly, the honour and dignity of an ordinary man were closely associated with his wife’s reputation, and an abuse of someone’s wife meant an insult to her husband and his entire family. Therefore, the female body, her chastity, and reputation often became a bargaining counter and were unscrupulously manipulated to exert pressure on her husband and to force him to act in compliance with the captor’s will. In spite of this, there were certain unwritten rules, customary habits, in the likeness of the medieval chivalric code, which the conflicting sides observed. All manipulations of a woman’s chastity were fraught with danger and could lead to blood feuds; for that reason, during the negotiation process the captors would often ensure these women’s safety and special treatment appropriate to their rank to avoid serious repercussions. This social reality is clearly discernible in the accounts of the fifth-century Armenian authors. 3

The Epic Histories

Besides the account of P‘aṙanjem’s brutal murder, there are several other passages in the Epic Histories that deal with the violent treatment of women.8 Amongst the victims we find Hamazaspuhi of the Mamikonean family, who dies a martyr’s death, and several unnamed Armenian noblewomen, who become an instrument of blackmail. It is noteworthy that the maltreatment of these women is described in more detail than any other act of violence in the histories. This betrays the compiler’s deliberate intention to denounce the targeting of women and to demonise, in the eyes of his audience, the Persians and the Armenian apostates, whose aim is to undermine the Arsacid statehood and its Christian faith. 3.1 The Armenian Noblewomen After P‘aṙanjem’s brutal murder, Šapuh continues to pursue his policy of intimidation and demoralisation by abusing the non-combatant population of 7 This has been the case in a large number of societies across the globe. For specific examples, see ibid., pp. 249–251. 8 This section draws on my earlier analysis of the representation of female figures in the Epic Histories (see Zakarian 2013a).

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Armenia. According to the compiler, a large number of the captive women were “impaled on carriage-poles” alongside their children.9 These were the wives of the šinakans rather than of the nobles, for a couple of lines later the author turns to the fate of the noblewomen: As for the wives of the azats and naxarars who had fled, he [Šapuh] ordered them brought to the racecourse of the city of Zarehawan. And he ordered all these noblewomen stripped naked and seated here and there on the racecourse. And King Šapuh himself rode out on horseback, galloped among the women, and took for himself one by one whichever of them caught his eye for foul copulation.10 None of the women is named, and no specific information about their numbers is provided. This gives the impression of being an exaggerated portrayal of an actual episode from the devastating campaign of the Persian army to Armenia in ca 367, and it is noteworthy that all the later Armenian authors, as in the case of P‘aṙanjem, prefer to remain silent and omit from their narratives the account of the sexual abuse of the noblewomen. The physical abuse of some of the noblewomen appears to be only part of the king’s strategy to coerce Armenian noblemen into submission to his authority, for Šapuh king of Persia likewise ordered fortresses built in the most impregnable localities of Armenia and he also ordered keepers installed there. And he apportioned the noblewomen among these fortresses and there, so that if their husbands did not come to serve him, the keeper-of-the-fortresses should kill the wives left with them.11

9 EH, IV.lviii: ապա հրաման տայր թագաւորն Պարսից Շապուհ … զամենայն զկին եւ զմանուկ հանել ընդ ցից սայլից. 10 Ibid., IV.lviii: եւ զկանայս ազատացն եւ նախարարացն զփախուցելոցն հրաման տայր ածել յասպարէզն` որ էր ի Զարեհվան քաղաքի: Եւ հրաման տայր հոլանել


զամենայն ազատ կանանին, եւ նստուցանել աստի անտի ասպարիսին. եւ ինքն Շապուհ արքայ հեծեալ ի ձի, շաւակի անցանէր առ կանանովն. եւ որ յակն գային, մի մի ի նոցանէ պղծեալ ի խառնակութիւն տանէր առ ինքն. Ibid., IV.lviii: Եւ տայր հրաման Շապուհ արքայն Պարսից զամուր ամուր տեղիսն Հայոց բերդս շինել, հրամայեաց եւ բերդակալս կացուցանել: Եւ զազատ կանանին անդէն ի բերդեանն բաշխէր եւ թողոյր. զի եթե ոչ արք նոցա եկեսցեն նմա ի ծառայութիւն, սպանցեն զկանայս նոցա բերդակալքն` առ որս եթող զնոսա.


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Šapuh sends a clear message to the Armenian nobles whose spouses are held captives: should they carry on their struggle against him, he will show no mercy to their wives, who may share the fate of the dishonoured women. It becomes evident that the female body is thus exploited to derive political benefits for the side which has established control over the adversary’s women. Episode V.ii further extends our knowledge of this topic. During a successful military campaign, the Armenian sparapet Mušeł Mamikonean manages to capture the wives of Šapuh along with the queen-of-queens and many Persian nobles. It is remarkable that Mušeł treats the captive men with total disrespect and has them killed in the same way as they murdered his father Vasak,12 but he allows “no one to insult the wives of Šapuh king of Persia in any way” and sends “them all back to their husband King Šapuh”.13 The Persian king appreciates the sparapet’s gesture, for Mušeł has “inflicted no offence on him on account of his wives”,14 and even orders that the portrait of Mušeł with his white steed be painted on one of his cups.15 Yet, Šapuh is reported to make no comment on the death of his nobles. This is obviously the compiler’s own interpretation and eloquent representation of the events. It is, nevertheless, essential to note that this Christian cleric perceives Mušeł’s killing of the Persian nobles as a justifiable act of revenge not denounced by Šapuh, whereas if the sparapet mistreated the king’s women, that would be considered an insult and would enrage the king of kings. In most cases the compiler is keen on explaining the motives of his protagonists, but in this episode we learn nothing about Mušeł’s incentive to spare Šapuh’s wives. Garsoïan believes that it “was a heroic gesture going back to the chivalry of Alexander the Great vis-à-vis the wives of Darius III after the battle

12 Ibid., V.ii: Եւ զամենայն մաշկաւարզան ի բուռն արկանէր Մուշեղ սպարապետն, եւ զամենայն աւագանին` արս իբրեւ վեց հարիւր` հրամայէր մորթել զօրավարն Հայոց Մուշեղ, եւ լնուլ խոտով. եւ տայր բերել առ Պապ արքայն Հայոց: Առնէր զայս ի վրէժս հօրն իւրոյ Վասակայ; “The Armenian commander-in-chief Mušeł ordered their skins flayed off, stuffed with straw, and taken to Pap king of Armenia. And he did this to avenge his father Vasak.” 13 Ibid., V.ii: Բայց զկանայսն Շապհոյ թագաւորին Պարսից ոչ ումեք ինչ թոյլ տայր

14 15

Մուշեղ զօրավարն Հայոց անարգել ինչ զնոսա ումեք. այլ ժանաւարս տայր նոցան կազմել ամենեցուն, եւ հանեալ արձակէր զամենեսեան զհետ առն նոցա Շապհոյ արքայի. Ibid., V.ii: Իսկ թագաւորն Պարսից զարմացեալ ընդ բարերարութիւնն Մուշեղի եւ ընդ քաջութիւնն եւ ընդ ազատութիւնն, զի ոչ արար ինչ նմա յաղագս կանանցն թշնամանս. Ibid., V.ii: ետ նկարել զտաշտ ի պատկեր զՄուշեղ ճերմակաւն; “he ordered a cup

decorated with the portrait of Mušeł with his white steed.”

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of Issos (Plutarch, Alexander, xxi) and may well have become an epic cliché.”16 I would elaborate further on this interpretation and suggest that Mušeł acted according to the unwritten customary code of honour, which is attested in a number of Persian sources.17 There can be little doubt that the Armenian general and all the military were fully acquainted with and followed this code of conduct and the hierarchical relationships within the Iranian milieu, for not only were there several-centuries-long cultural and political ties between the Armenians and Iranian people, but at the time the Armenian cavalry still formed a highly esteemed part of the elite of the Sasanian army.18 In his attack on the Persian camp and killing of the nobles, the sparapet was primarily driven by a desire for revenge for the death of his father, which seems to have been perceived as legitimate by the compiler and, perhaps, by Šapuh himself. The code of honour, however, only permitted killing an adversary who was of the same or of lower rank, which is why Mušeł could not maltreat the wives of Šapuh, especially the queen-of-queens, because of their high position within the hierarchy of power.19 In fact, when accused of plotting against King Pap, Mušeł unequivocally refers to this concept in the code by saying: I have killed all of my equals, but those who wear the crown are not my equals but yours. Go and kill yours, as I have killed mine. But I have never raised my hand against a man [who is] king, against one who wears a crown.20

16 Ibid., p. 308, V.ii, n. 8. 17 For the primary sources, see Shahbazi 1987, p. 498. Mohsen Zakeri also discusses the existence of such a code in the Sasanian army, in particular among the elect soldiers known as asbārān (Zakeri 1995, pp. 60, 67–68). 18 See Christensen 1944, p. 210. 19 Ammianus Marcellinus confirms that amongst the Persians prisoners were treated differently depending on their social status: thus, he reports that when the Armenian King Aršak was imprisoned by Šapuh, “after his eyes had been gouged out, he was bound in silver chains, which among that people [i.e. the Persians] is regarded as a consolation, though an empty one, for the punishment of men of rank …”; “Dein per exquisitas periuriisque mixtas illecebras, captum regem ipsum Arsacen, adhibitumque in convivium, iussit ad latentem trahi posticam, eumque effossis oculis vinctum catenis argenteis, quod apud eos honoratis vanum suppliciorum aestimatur esse solacium …” (AM, XXVII.xii.3). 20 EH, V.iv: Զիմ զընգերսն զամենեսեան ես կոտորեցի. իսկ որ թագս ունէին, նոքա իս ընգերք չէին, այլ քո. եկեսցես` որպէս ես զիմսն սպանի, դու զքոյսն. այլ իմ յայր թագաւոր ոչ ձգեալ ձեռն երբէք որ թագ ունի.


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The words of the sparapet contain a mild reproach of Pap’s failure to revenge the murder of his parents, which could be yet another reason why Pap acquired an unsavoury reputation among his contemporaries.21 3.2 Hamazaspuhi Mamikonean’s Martyrdom The Epic Histories features one more description of violence towards women, the focus of which, however, is different from other accounts. This episode belongs to the genre of hagiography, and its protagonist, Hamazaspuhi Mamikonean, who is most likely a historical figure, is killed as a Christian martyr for her refusal to convert to Zoroastrianism. In contrast to the previously discussed passages, the anonymous narrator not only portrays the perpetrators as wicked and iniquitous traitors, but he also wishes to glorify Hamazaspuhi and her dedication to Christian ideals. Hamazaspuhi was from the Mamikonean house and was married to Garegin, the lord of Ṙštunik‘. Garegin fled the Persian forces during Šapuh’s military operations in Armenia, and Hamazaspuhi was left in the fortress of Van, which came under the control of the Persian army. At the time, the apostates Vahan Mamikonean and Meružan Arcruni “gave out an order to the fortresses to compel the women to turn to the religion of the Mazdeans, and if they did not accept, to put all of them cruelly to death.”22 Hamazaspuhi disobeys the order and is put to death. The author borrows images from hagiographical narratives and in beautiful, poetic language creates the radiant image of a Christian martyr: Since Hamazaspuhi would not agree to keep the Mazdean laws, they carried her to a lofty tower that stood on a rocky height and looked in the direction of the lake on the side of the river, stripped her naked as she had come from her mother’s [womb], tied her feet with a rope, and hanged her head down from that high place. And thus she died on the gallows. But her body was white and luminous to see, so that it remained hanging like a marvellous apparition. Her body shone from on high with a whiteness like snow, and day after day many people gathered to see it as a miraculous manifestation in the realm.23 21 For the summary of other reasons, see Garsoïan’s comments in EH, pp. 397–398. 22 Ibid., IV.lix: զամենայն կանայս փախուցելոցն զնախարարացն` որ թողինն եւ գնացինն, տային հրաման ի բերդեանն զի նեղեսցեն զնոսա` դարձուցանել 23

յօրէնս Մազդեզանց. եթէ ոչ առնուցուն յանձն, սատակեսցեն զամենեսեան չարաչար. Ibid., IV.lix: Իբրեւ ոչ առնոյր յանձն Համազասպուհի պահել զօրէնս Մազդեզանցն, հանէին ի բարձր աշտարակն` որ կայր ի վերայ բարձր գահուն

Violence against Women


Although Hamazaspuhi is stripped naked and her body is displayed in public, shame and dishonour are absent from this description. On the contrary, the gleaming whiteness of the martyr’s body symbolising her purity becomes the sign of divine visitation. As in Agat‘angełos’ representation of the martyrdom of the Hṙip‘simian virgins, violence against Hamazaspuhi is interpreted as a means to bring God’s grace to the Armenian land. 3.3 The Kamsarakan Women in Łazar P‘arpec‘i’s History A different war experience of noblewomen is recounted by Łazar P‘arpec‘i in the narrative of the second Armenian revolt in 482–484 against the oppressive religious policy of the Sasanian court. The episode of the captivity of women from the noble Kamsarakan family provides further evidence on how the integrity of women’s body and self was exploited to achieve one’s objectives. In addition, it testifies that the military code of conduct was still followed at the end of the fifth century, and a woman’s high status in the Armenian-Iranian milieu could ensure her safety while in captivity. In one of the episodes of military operations, the Persian commander Zarmihr Hazarawuxt, sent by King Peroz to suppress the rebellion, fortuitously captures the two wives of the Kamsarakan brothers Nerseh, the lord of Širak, and Hrahat.24 In contrast to the men, the Kamsarakan women are not named, even though Łazar must have known them personally in view of the fact that in his youth he spent some time under their roof.25 Hazarawuxt aspires to


քարին, որ հային ի կողմն ծովակին ի գետոյ կուսէ. եւ մերկացուցին զնա իբրեւ ի մօրէ. եւ արկեալ կապ զոտիցն, գլխիվայր կախեցին զնա զբարձուէն կուսէ. եւ այնպէս մեռաւ ի կախաղանին: Եւ էր նա սպիտակ մարմնով, եւ պայծառ տեսանելով. կայր կախեալ յերեւոյթ տեսիլ նշանակի, եւ փաղփաղէր մարմինն ի բարձուէն զոր օրինակ ձիւն սպիտակութեամբն. եւ բազում մարդիկ ժողովէին տեսանել օր ըստ օրէ, զի իբրեւ սքանչելի ինչ երեւէր յաշխարհին. ŁP, p. 204 [145]: … տեղեակ առաջնորդօք հասանէր [Հազարաւուխտ] ընդ առաւօտուն ծագել: Եւ գտեալ անդ բազմութիւն այլ մարդկան, ընդ որս դիպեցան եւ կանայք երկուց Կամսարականացն, տեառնն Շիրակայ Ներսեհի եւ Հրահատայ, յորոց վերայ անկեալ յանզգաստ զօրացն Պարսից` զբազումս ի ռամիկ մարդկանէն Հայոց սպանանէին. եւ զկանայս երկուց Կամսարականացն եղբարց, զՆերսեհի եւ զՀրահատայ, ըմբռնեալ տանէին ի բանակն Պարսից;

“Led by guides he [Hazarawuxt] arrived at daybreak. He found there a great number of other people, among whom happened to be also the wives of the two Kamsarakan, Nerseh lord of Širak and Hrahat. The Persian troops fell on the unwary Armenians and killed many of the commoners. Seizing the wives of the two Kamsarakan brothers, Nerseh and Hrahat, they took them to the Persian camp.” 25 Ibid., p. 250 [187–188]: եւ եկեալ անտի [ի Հոռոմս] կեցի առ Կամսարականսդ յամենայն ամբոխսն … Արդ` զառաջին կելոյն իմոյ զվարս տէր Ներսեհ եւ Հրահատ Կամսարական գիտեն; “Returning thence [from Roman territory] I lived


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force the brothers to abandon the ranks of the rebels, which will considerably weaken the Armenian resistance led by Vahan Mamikonean.26 Łazar ascribes the following thoughts to Hazarawuxt after the latter has discovered who the captured women are: Through them I shall surely be able to hunt down and capture Vahan. For they [the Kamsarakan princes] have his heart and their solidarity is sure and devoted. Once they are separated from him, and he is left alone without those men, either he will submit to us, as we desire, or he will flee to a foreign land and perish all alone.27 This retrospective view based on the interpretation of subsequent events implies that the Kamsarakan women become an instrument of blackmail and manipulation. Nevertheless, the Persians do not succeed in their plans, for King Peroz soon perishes during his campaign against the Hephthalites,28 and the Armenian rebellion comes to an end after the compromise reached by Vahan Mamikonean and the Persian official Všnaspdat Nixor at Nuarsak in 484.29 Łazar is silent about the destiny of the two women, but we may assume that they returned safe and sound to their families, for the last reference to them indicates that the Persian commander of the Bołberd fortress, where they were kept, receives “strict orders that they [the Kamsarakan ladies] were to be kept with all care, and especially unmolested in accordance with Christian practice”.30 Unlike King Šapuh’s brutal treatment of Armenian noblewomen, the Persian general Hazarawuxt and later marzpan Šhapuh Mihranean treat

with the Kamsarakans, all together … So lords Hrahat and Nerseh Kamsarakan are acquainted with the circumstances of my early life …”. 26 Ibid., pp. 204–205 [145–146]. 27 Ibid., p. 204 [145–146]: արդ նոքօք հաստատ կարեմ որսալ եւ ըմբռնեմ զՎահան. քանզի նոքա են նորա սիրտ եւ հաւաստապէս միանձնապէս միութիւն. եւ թէ քակտեալ նոքա ի նմանէ լինին գամ մի, եւ նա միայն մնայ առանց այն արանց` կամ նուաճեալ հնազանդի մեզ, որպէս եւ կամիմք, եւ կամ փախուցեալ յօտար երկիր` կորնչի միայն առանձինն.

28 Ibid., p. 214 [155]. 29 Ibid., p. 220 [160]. 30 Ibid., p. 216 [157]: Բայց զկանայս Կամսարականացն թողեալ Շապհոյ անդէն ի Բողբերդի` յանձն առնէր բերդակալին, ստէպ պատուիրելով` բազում զգուշութեամբ պահել եւ առաւելապէս սրբութեամբ, ըստ օրինի քրիստոնէից կարգի. Łazar mentions these same instructions given to Yēzatvšnasp, the commander of

the fortress Bołberd, earlier in the narrative (see ibid., p. 205 [146]).

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the two women with the respect that their rank requires,31 or at least this is what the author wants us to believe. The high status of the Kamsarakan family, their unswerving support for Armenia’s religious freedom, the close collaboration and ties of kinship with the Mamikoneans, and his personal attachment to the Kamsarakans explain Łazar’s zeal to glorify the men of that clan for their bravery32 and to praise their women for their high moral standards. Indeed, Łazar is genuinely concerned with providing a convincing explanation for his claim that, while in captivity, the wives of the Kamsarakan princes were not subjected to physical violence and mistreatment, and remained pure in accordance with the Christian faith. It appears to be of utmost significance for him to protect the reputation of these women in the eyes of his audience, for it may otherwise have a detrimental effect upon the honour of the entire clan. For this purpose he repeatedly emphasises that the Kamsarakan women were “guarded honourably and with all respect according to the Christian religion,”33 so that they would preserve their physical and moral integrity.34 It should also be noted that for Łazar purity is exclusively a Christian virtue, though it was also preached and revered as a significant moral value by the Zoroastrians.35 The Persian attempt to blackmail Nerseh and Hrahat Kamsarakan fails. Łazar uses this episode to extol the unquestioning faith which the two brothers manifest by refusing to betray their religion and in that way save their spouses. They are said to have fully relied on God’s grace and remained “inflexible in the faith.”36 Yet, if we disregard Łazar’s propagandistic intent according to which religious loyalty seems to override honour, then how should we interpret a decision which in reality would endanger both the women and their husbands’ reputation? I believe that a number of objective factors determined the Kamsarakan brothers’ refusal to cooperate with the Persians. First of all, the members of the Kamsarakan dynasty, which was believed to have descended from one of the 31 Ibid., p. 204 [146]: Բայց զկանայս նոցա, երկուց Կամսարականացն, հրամայէր [Հազարաւուխտ] ըստ օրինացն քրիստոնէիցն, որպէս լուեալ էր հաստատապէս, պահել սրբութեամբ եւ ամենայն զգուշութեամբ; “He [Hazarawuxt] ordered the wives of the two Kamsarakan to be guarded honourably and with all respect according to the Christian religion, as he had accurately heard.” 32 See, for instance, ibid., pp. 107 [65], 185 [129], 193 [135], and 211 [151]. 33 Ibid., p. 204 [146]: ըստ օրինացն քրիստոնէիցն … պահել սրբութեամբ եւ ամենայն զգուշութեամբ. 34 See nn. 30 and 40. 35 See Chapter 1. 36 ŁP, p. 206 [147]: անշարժ հաստատեալք ի հաւատս.


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seven great houses of Iran, namely the Kāren Pahlav,37 were held in great respect in the Persian court, which is why the Persian generals would hardly venture to harm the Kamsarakan wives without direct royal command.38 Furthermore, any violence towards the members of a clan could have resulted in a blood feud. Łazar implicitly hints at it by putting the following words into the mouth of the captive Kamsarakan women: “But if they [our husbands] hear anything else about us, of outrage or shame – let alone of sin or immorality in the eyes of our religion – they will rather risk death and perish.”39 Finally, considering the historical context in which the events unfold, we should not exclude the literal rendering of Łazar’s words that Nerseh and Hrahat Kamsarakan indeed put their faith in God.40 To sum up, Łazar’s discourse on the captured noblewomen evinces the significance attached to the bodily and moral integrity of women in contemporary Armenian society, which was apparently related to the notions of family honour and shame, and was carefully guarded by all its members. Though implicitly, Łazar also alludes to the existence of a moral code which was followed by both the Persians and the Armenians, and which proscribed maltreatment of someone of a higher social rank. 4

Domestic Violence

The only description of domestic violence towards women in the fifth-century Armenian texts is found in the Martyrdom of St Šušanik, which is set in an 37 38

Toumanoff 2011, p. 453, and 1963, pp. 206–207. This is the case, as discussed above, in the Epic Histories: King Šapuh himself orders the abuse of Armenian noblewomen. Apparently, the Persian generals held a lower rank than the Kamsarakans and they could not violate this order without consent from above. 39 ŁP, p. 205 [146]: ապա թէ այլ ինչ լսեն [արսն մեր] վասն մեր` ի նախատանաց իսկ եւ յամօթոց, թող ի մեղաց եւ ի գարշութենէ` ըստ մերոց օրինացն, առաւել դնեն զանձինս ի մահ, կորնչին. 40 Ibid., pp. 206–207 [147]: Այլ վասն կանանցդ մերոց տամք ձեզ նշան ինչ, եւ ձեր փորձեալ քաջ քննեցեք. զի եթէ արդարեւ մեք յաղագս հաւատոյն, զոր սիրեմք եւ ունիմք հաստատապէս, եւ վասն այնր տենչալի յուսոյն եւ փառացն կրեմք զայս վիշտս, եւ հաճոյ է գործս մեր ճշմարիտ Աստուծոյ եւ ընդունելի` զմեզ փրկէ ի նեղութենէս, եւ զկանայսդ մեր պահէ ամենայն սրբութեամբ եւ տայ ցմեզ. ապա թէ ոչ այդպէս լինի` մերում թերահաւատութեան մեղադրեսցուք, եւ մի ինչ ձերում բռնութեանդ եւ սաստից; “But as for our wives, we give you a sign,

and do you test and examine it well. For if we really endure this tribulation for the faith, which we love and hold firmly, and for that desirable hope and glory, and [if] our efforts are pleasing and acceptable to the true God, he will rescue us from our tribulation, keep our wives completely inviolate, and restore them to us. But if such does not occur, we shall blame our own lack of faith and not your violence or threats.”

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Armeno-Georgian milieu. Despite containing many elements of the genre of martyrology, this story is based on real events and presents the life of a rebellious wife, Šušanik, whose noncompliance, according to the anonymous author of the text, stems from her husband’s, Vazgen’s, abandonment of Christian values and from his endeavours to impose Zoroastrianism on his subordinates. In one episode, for instance, Šušanik openly defies her husband’s commands and challenges his authority, which provokes his anger: “And he struck her very hard with large sticks, and no one could appease the man’s wrath.”41 The members of the household, Vazgen’s younger brothers, who arrive at the scene, are unable to stop him. Such inhumane treatment of Šušanik by Vazgen continues for over six years during which she is subjected to continuous physical and emotional abuse.42 As pointed out by Zaroui Pogossian, Šušanik’s rebellion against her husband and her choice to live in seclusion cause considerable tensions within her family and society in general.43 This is not only amply demonstrated by the animosity of Vazgen towards his wife, but also by the reaction of people who show compassion towards Šušanik. Thus, the bishop, accompanied by Vazgen’s brother J̌oǰik, implores Šušanik to return to her husband, because otherwise people may incur their master’s wrath.44 It appears that the bishop perceives Šušanik’s attempt to dissolve her marriage as more dangerous for the social order than Vazgen’s apostasy. J̌oǰik, on his behalf, constantly offers Šušanik 41 42

Muradyan 1996, p. 28, VI: Եւ հարկանէր զնա բրաւք սաստիկ յոյժ, եւ ոչ ոք կարէր շիջուցանել զբարկութիւն առնն. Muradyan 1996, p. 38, XIV: թէպէտ որպէս զալիս ծովու զվիմաւ հոսէր զվեց ամս եւ կտտէր պէսպէս փորձութեամբք եւ նեղութեամբքն զսուրբն` հարուածովք, բանտիւ, սովով, ծարաւով, կախարդիւք, սակայն առաքինւոյն ոչ ինչ վնասեալ յայնմ ամենայնէ, այլ առաւել եւս ճգնէր վասն անուան տեառն Աստուծոյ;

“Although, like the waves of the sea, she had been thrown on the rocks for six years and he had the holy woman suffer various misfortunes and deprivations with beatings, imprisonment, hunger, thirst, sorcery; nevertheless, nothing at all caused harm to the virtuous one. On the contrary, she laboured even more in the name of the Lord God”; XV: Եւ ի մտանել եւթներորդի ամի հարուածոցն նորա եւ կապանացն, եւ բանտին, հիւանդանայր երանելին [Շուշանիկն] յանհնարին չարչարանացն եւ ի սաստիկ ճգնութեանցն, զոր կրեաց սուրբ աղախինն Քրիստոսի; “At the beginning of the seventh year, having been beaten, bound and imprisoned, the blessed [Šušanik] fell sick due to unbearable tortures and extremely austere life, which the holy maid of Christ endured.” For more descriptions of violence, see, for instance, ibid., pp. 28 (VI–VII), 32 (VIII–IX), 34 (X), 36 (XII). 43 Pogossian 2012, p. 211. 44 Muradyan 1996, p. 24 (V): Ասէ եպիսկոպոսն. «… այս զմտաւ պարտ է ածել, թէ գուցէ [անհնազանդութեամբ քո] յառաւել բարկութիւն եւ ի նախանձ յուզիցի եւ յարուցանէ չար ի վերայ չարի վերակացույց եւ ժողովրդոց …»; “The Bishop said, ‘… you have to bear in mind that perhaps [by your disobedience] you will further provoke his anger and rancour, and inflict great evil on governors and people …’ ”.


chapter 8

considerable support and genuine sympathy45 but he himself is unable to go against Vazgen’s will. One of the major reasons behind Vazgen’s cruelty is that Šušanik’s behaviour jeopardised his status and severely undermined his authority in society. According to Nancy Lindisfarne, in similar situations “the cause of men’s violence toward women (and men) is twofold: a man’s commitment to ideals of honor as judged by neighbors and others; and his own dishonor or shame”.46 Thus, Vazgen, as an influential prince and important political figure in the country, feels obliged to protect his honour in the eyes of his subordinates and his equals, and must avoid the dishonour that a subversive spouse may bring upon him by her actions. The pressure that the socially defined notions of honour and shame exert on him compels him to reclaim his authority by resorting to violence, which implies that in that patriarchal society the violent treatment of one’s wife was perceived by the members of society as less ignominious and less atrocious than the loss of one’s honour in the public eye. 5


The passages examined in the present chapter allow us to access some aspects of mentality of the people in fifth-century Armenia. Honour and shame appear to have been essential moral concepts which defined the social conduct of both men and women. As far as women were concerned, morality was closely related to chastity, and it implied that the husband had absolute control of his wife’s body and any mistreatment of that body was perceived as a grave offence against the man’s honour. This explains the considerable tensions created after noblewomen were captured by an adversary. Significantly, the fate of captive women did not entirely depend on the whim of the captors, for there are unmistakable signs of an unwritten code of conduct by which all the parties involved in the conflict had to abide. Social status was the key element in these relationships: one had no right to endanger the life of a person who occupied a higher social position than them, but they were permitted to ill-treat anyone who held the same or lower rank in society. While it is difficult to establish how closely this code was observed, the extant evidence suggests that retaliation and revenge for any kind of violation of one’s honour was a common practice at the time.

45 46

See ibid., pp. 24–26 (V), 26–28 (VI), 34 (X), 38 (XVI). Lindisfarne 1998, p. 252.

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What is more, the discourse of Christian authors evinces efforts expended to redefine the concept of honour and relate it to the Christian system of values. The historical context of constant conflicts between the Zoroastrian Persians and Christian Armenians was conducive to undertaking this task. Thus, the exploitation of female bodies which was aimed at deriving political benefits was primarily interpreted as encroachment on the Christian beliefs of the Armenian people: the female body was perceived as a symbolic battlefield where the true religion was fighting against unrighteous pagan beliefs. Finally, Šušanik’s abuse by her husband and the Georgian-Armenian milieu’s conformity to and acceptance of this phenomenon evince the perpetuation of deeply rooted patriarchal values. However, considering the extraordinary circumstances under which Šušanik found herself and the absence of any other reference to domestic violence in the fifth-century sources do not allow us to draw conclusions regarding the extent of this problem in early Christian Armenia.

Conclusions The main aim of this book was to explore the ways in which early Christian Armenian authors perceived and presented women’s agency, experience, and identity in their ideologically charged narratives. In addition, an attempt was made to go beyond the ornate layers of rhetorical utterances in order to uncover details of the lived experience of women in the Arsacid period of Armenian history. This study also pursued the task of extending our understanding of the extent of women’s participation in societal changes, with the particular focus on the transitional period from Zoroastrianism to Christianity. As far as women are concerned, the examination of the sources has demonstrated several common themes and attitudes on which the fifth-century Armenian authors elaborate. Due to the education they received, the Armenian clerics’ discourse was considerably influenced by the religious teachings of the Greek and Syriac Church Fathers. However, as far as the representation of women is concerned, the Greek Fathers’ largely misogynistic discourse did not have a discernible effect on the Armenian authors. On the contrary, the approach developed in early Christian Armenian literature was congruous with the more broad-minded way of thinking of the Syriac Fathers. Even more so, the Armenian authors showed a clear tendency towards empowering women ideologically. They constructed and promoted role models of pious Christian women who actively participated in the preservation, promulgation, and protection of the new religion by assuming prominent roles in the largely patriarchal society. This approach to the function of women in society seems to have been rooted in the pre-Christian beliefs and customary law of the Armenians, and was deployed by the representatives of the church to facilitate the dissemination of Christianity. The empowerment of women is conspicuous already in the two narratives of Christianisation. Despite the fact that men’s significance in the process of conversion is foregrounded, the male narrators explicitly show that women’s agency is essential for the entire process of the country’s evangelisation. No gender-based discrimination features in both narratives and women are depicted as possessing multifaceted agency, which is strongly encouraged. With the strengthening of the position of the church in society in the second half of the fourth century, the ecclesiastical authorities offered women the option of an ascetic lifestyle. They authorised the building of special enclosed dwelling-places where women of different ages could join together and devote themselves to Christian practices. In the first half of the fifth century

© David Zakarian, 2021 | doi:10.1163/9789004445031_011



some ascetic women were also reported to be living in spiritual marriage with priests or other ascetics. However, female asceticism in either form seems to have been incompatible with the local culture and did not flourish in Armenia, apparently disappearing in the aftermath of the Battle of Avarayr in 451. Besides moralising women’s agency and experience within a religious context, the medieval clerics also provided their perspective on specific aspects of women’s social life. Women were in charge of the domestic sphere, which was the main site of economic production in the naxarar society. The rigid hierarchy within the society was also reflected in the domestic sphere where there was a distinct division of responsibilities and roles among women which depended on their marital status and age. Women’s status within the family determined the boundaries of their mobility permitting them to occupy only specific spaces, though on some special occasions these boundaries of the allocated spaces could be extended. Within this social structure the Armenian authors highlighted the importance of the role of women as educators. They expressed no reservations about women preaching in public and highly commended mothers who inculcated Christian values in their children. Furthermore, the analysis of the institution of marriage has demonstrated that the Iranian matrimonial practice including polygyny and consanguineous marriages was still common among the Armenian elite, whereas the members of the lower class predominantly practised marriage by bride purchase or abduction. In spite of the fact that the church attempted to regulate this sphere of social life by promulgating canons condemning and banning the practices that were at variance with the Christian beliefs, some of them, nevertheless, such as bride theft, continued to be followed. The fifth-century sources also provide some insights into the power relationships between women and men within the public sphere. In particular, we possess valuable, though scant, information on the institution of queenship in Arsacid Armenia which allows us to draw certain conclusions about the extent of power that the Queen of Armenia could exercise in the male-dominated public space. As we have seen, whenever the king’s throne was empty, the queen would assume authority as the head of state and army, but only temporarily until the legitimate heir officially acceded to the throne. This was due to the fact that the queen’s authority was believed to lack divine patronage, and she could not possess the symbolic attributes of supreme (masculine) authority, namely heavenly glory (p‘aṙk‘), fortune (baxt), and valour (k‘aǰut‘iwn). According to the fifth-century authors, the Queen of Armenia nevertheless represented the symbolic honour of the country, in the same way as a man’s wife was perceived to represent the honour of her husband. This was a cultural



characteristic shared between the Armenians and the Persians, and was often exploited for deriving political and strategic benefits. In particular, women’s bodily integrity was targeted by conflicting parties, especially during war, in order to disgrace or blackmail the adversary. The present study of the representation of women reveals specific constants and variables in the organisation of early Christian society in Armenia. On the one hand, the image promoted by the Christian authors shows a male-centred society with clear divisions into spheres of influence: men effectively controlled the public space, while women were in charge of the domestic sphere. Since the main focus of all the texts is the public sphere, men’s agency, experience, identity, and discourse were given priority and featured prominently in them. On the other hand, the representation of the roles and responsibilities of women in the family and society suggest that they could wield a profound influence on both social processes and family life. With the exception of isolated utterances, no mention of female inferiority is made. On the contrary, women are portrayed as men’s partners in the struggle against unrighteousness of pagan religions, though, ironically, this concept was adapted from the pre-Christian religion of the Armenians. It is further corroborated by the canons promulgated at the Council of Šahapivan that treated Armenian women as equal to men in the legal sphere. To conclude, the discourse of the fifth-century Armenian texts suggests that the interactions of women and men within the early Christian Armenian society were built on a hierarchy that implied a cooperation of its different layers rather than on domination and submission. This understanding of roles and responsibilities was explicitly reinforced, and yet, due to the inevitable limitations imposed by the literary nature and ideological function of the discussed texts, it was feasible to establish only a few aspects of women’s lived reality. As an avenue for future research it would be interesting to investigate whether this approach to the role of women in society changed in subsequent centuries. In particular, the focus should be on how and to what extent Justinian’s reforms in the sixth century and the Arab conquest of Armenia in the seventh century influenced the exiting paradigm of relations. In addition, a study of fifth-century Armenian translations of Greek and Syriac exegetical and apocryphal texts, with the focus on the creative and adaptive elements introduced by Armenian translators, could provide further insights into the issues related to women in early Christian Armenian society and serve as a starting point for a comparative study of the representation of women in the Eastern Christian tradition.

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Index of Topics adultery 4n, 38, 160, 177, 192 apostle (female) 20, 71–72, 76–78, 83, 86n, 98 Arsacid (Aršakuni) dynasty of Armenia  2n, 4, 7, 19, 26, 29–31, 34, 41–66, 115, 130, 157, 168–172, 179–193, 196, 208–209 awrēnk‘ see customary law Battle of Avarayr 5, 32, 34, 37, 85, 99, 119–120, 123, 138–142, 146, 150, 152, 209 bnāt qyāmâ (daughters of the covenant)  109n, 111–112, 119, 128, 144 Book of Laws (Kanonagirk‘ Hayoc‘) 129 Brides of Christ 95 canons 16, 56, 129, 159n Council of Nicaea 22n, 38, 129n, 131–132 Šahapivan Council 4n, 22, 24, 37–38, 129n, 130–132, 156–158, 160–164, 167, 170, 175–178, 210 covenant (uxt) 24, 33, 82n, 111 customary law (awrēnk‘) 4–5, 24, 33, 36, 42, 44, 54–57, 59, 65–66, 74, 81–82, 96, 104, 140, 143, 155, 161, 169, 171, 185, 190, 195–196, 199, 208 dayeakut‘iwn 115 deaconess 97n, 112n, 144 divorce 4n, 160–161, 178 domestic and public space 16–17, 30, 33, 36, 45, 51, 57, 66, 84, 103–104, 137–138, 140–144, 146, 152–155, 179, 187, 194, 209–210 domestic violence 22, 37, 204–207 dowry (awžit) 158, 160–161, 164, 192 Fall of Man 19, 86n, 88, 100–101, 102n, 143 family (azg, tun, tohm, azgatohm, ǝntanik‘)  17, 24, 42, 44–48, 66, 159–160, 162, 164, 166, 172–173, 176, 181, 183, 185, 195–196, 204–205, 209–210 fortune (baxt) 181–183, 193, 209 glory (p‘aṙk‘) 63, 73n, 85, 181–183, 193, 209

honour (and shame) 184–185, 195–196, 199, 203–204, 206–207, 209 lived reality (experience) ix, 1, 10, 12–13, 31, 36–37, 41–42, 137–155, 195, 208, 210 marriage 22, 51–52, 53n, 107–110, 116, 119, 121, 123, 127, 132–133, 141–142, 156–178 (by) abduction (bride theft) 4n, 38, 158, 161–167, 171–172, 178, 209 čakarīh (čakar) 52, 169, 177, 191 marriage of epikleros 52–53, 169 marriage for a definite period 53 pātixšāyīh 52, 54, 159, 183, 193 polygamy 52, 90n, 172–175, 209 second marriage 163, 164n29, 164n30, 171 stūr 52–53, 158, 167, 169, 171, 173 syneisaktism (spiritual marriage) 38, 128–132, 209 (by) varjank‘ 158–161, 166–167, 172, 178, 209 xvaētvadatha (xvēdōdah) (next-of-kin marriage) 38, 52, 171–176, 178, 209 Messalians 130–132 Parthian Empire 19, 26, 42–43, 45, 52, 59, 62, 157, 181 power and authority 11–13, 17, 31, 44–46, 49–50, 52, 54, 61, 65–66, 71, 74–75, 77, 80–81, 99, 104, 128, 143n, 146n, 148, 177, 179, 181, 183, 185–193, 205–206, 209 queenship 12, 179–193, 209 Sasanian Empire 4, 17n, 26, 30, 44n, 45, 47n, 48n, 50n, 51n, 52, 147n, 157, 167, 181, 186, 199, 201, tantikin (mistress of the house, materfamilias, kadag–bānūg) 48–51, 129–130, 146–147, 148n, 153, 170, 183 tikin (queen; great lady; landlady) 50, 63, 65, 74, 85, 86n, 90n, 170n58, 170n60, 180–181, 188, 193

232 valour (k‘aǰut‘iwn), valiant (k‘aǰ) 14–15, 24, 36n, 61, 85, 99, 150, 165, 181–183, 193, 209 widows 50n, 52, 88, 112, 117, 120, 123, 130n, 141, 143n, 145, 169, 176–177, 185, 187 witchcraft 4n, 38, 178,

Index of Topics Zoroastrianism (in Armenia) 5–6, 16, 21, 24–26, 28, 41–42, 50, 52–66, 73, 78, 81–82, 92n, 93, 96, 145, 157–158, 160, 169, 172, 176, 178–182, 192, 208, 210

Index of Names Adam 87, 100–101, 109, 143 Agat‘angełos 7–8, 16, 20, 24–29, 34–35, 42, 47, 61–62, 69, 75, 78–91, 93–97, 99–104, 112–118, 132, 138, 141–142, 145, 172–173, 180, 182–183, 187–189, 201 Ahriman (Angra Mainyu) 59, 61 Ammianus Marcellinus 19, 199n Anahit (Anāhitā) 26, 50, 56n, 60–66, 73–74, 78, 85–86, 88, 91, 180–181 Anušvṙam (Juik’s sister, wife of the Georgian prince Ašušay) 145–146, 147n Aphrahat 18, 94n, 101, 105, 107n, 108–109 Aramazd (Ahura Mazdā) 59, 61, 63–64, 73n, 85, 91n, 181 Arcruni 35, 54n, 145, 200 Aristakēs (St Gregory’s son, Armenian Patriarch) 27 Aršak II (King of Armenia) 44n, 54n, 168–170, 171n, 189–190, 192, 199n Artašēs (King of Armenia) 157n, 162, 165–167 Astłik 64–65 Ašxēn (Queen of Armenia) 81, 90n, 102–104, 116, 141, 172, 180, 187–189 Athanasius of Alexandria 18, 105 Basil of Caesarea 18, 105 Bryene 97n Diocletian 27, 74, 88n, 89–92, 110, 113–114, 118 Ełišē 5, 31–33, 35–36, 45, 56, 100n, 101, 118–123, 125, 127, 138–139, 141–142, 148, 150–154, 160n, 174, 177 Ephrem the Syrian 18, 87–88, 100, 105, 108–110, 144, 151 Epiphanius of Cyprus 129n Eusebius of Caesarea 7n, 18–19, 129, 194n Eve 19, 86–88, 100–101, 104, 109, 143 Eznik 23, 43n, 100n Febronia 97n

Gayianē (Gaiane) 27, 82n, 89, 92, 97, 113–115 Gerontius 151 Gnel (P‘aṙanjem’s husband, Aršak II’s nephew) 168–169, 192 Gregory of Nazianzus 105 Gregory of Nyssa 18, 105, 108, 144n, 151 Gregory the Illuminator (Grigor Lusavorič‘)  24n, 26–27, 28n, 30, 62, 76n, 79–81, 83–86, 88–89, 95, 97–100, 102–104, 129, 132, 133n, 138n, 139, 145, 160, 187, 189 Hovhannes Ōjnec‘i 129n, 131 Hṙip‘simē (Rhipsime; and her companions)  10, 20–21, 27, 28n, 29, 71–72, 74–75, 78–81, 82n, 83–86, 88–93, 95–99, 102–104, 110, 112–116, 118, 126–127, 138, 142, 172, 201 Jacob of Serug 144, 151 John Chrysostom 18, 47n, 87, 94n, 101n, 107–108, 123–125, 130n, 143, 176n John Rufus 150n Juik (widow of Hmayeak Mamikonean, sister of Anušvṙam) 145–146, 147n Kamsarakan 35, 146, 201–204 Komitas Ałc‘ec‘i 79n Koriwn 3n, 4, 8, 18n, 23, 34n, 49 Łazar P‘arpec‘i 5–6, 14–15, 24, 31, 34–36, 45, 49n, 120, 123–125, 128–132, 139–142, 145–148, 150n, 152, 154, 177, 201–204 Leontius (Bishop of Caesarea) 188 Maccabees 32, 56 Macrina 144n, 151 Maštoc‘ 3–4, 8, 23, 31, 34, 37 Mamikonean 5n, 30, 35, 36n, 44, 49, 54n, 147, 180n, 185, 192, 203 Hamazasp 132n–133n Hamazaspuhi 175n, 196, 200–201 Hmayeak (Vardan’s brother) 145–146 Manuēl 185–187

234 Mamikonean (cont.) Mušeł 198–199 Vahan (leader of the 482–484 rebellion)  6, 34–35, 36n, 140–141, 145, 174n, 202 Vardan (sparapet, hero of Avarayr) 6, 32, 34, 37, 50n, 56, 93n, 99, 132n–133n, 140n, 145–146, 153 Melania the Younger 144n, 151 Mihr (Mithra) 61, 93, 181 Mxit‘ar Anec‘i 184 Movsēs Xorenac‘i 20, 23, 46n, 57, 157n, 159n, 160, 162, 165–166, 168, 170n, 173–174, 180, 184, 192n63, 192n67, 193 Nanē 64–65 Nersēs the Great (Armenian Patriarch) 53n, 117, 156n, 173, 176 Nersēs Šnorhali 79n, 176 Nunē 20 Ołompi (Olympias; Queen of Armenia) 168, 170, 191 Pachomius 105 Pap (King of Armenia) 117–118, 149–150, 169, 175n, 183–185, 187, 189, 191, 198n, 199–200 P‘aṙanjem (Queen of Armenia) 31, 53n, 63, 141, 146n, 149–150, 168–171, 177, 179–180, 183–184, 189–192, 196–197 Peroz (Sasanian King) 6, 201–202 Sahak (Armenian Patriarch) 31, 34, 37, 130, 132, 133n, 159n Sanatruk 29, 70–72, 85 Sanduxt 7, 10, 21, 29, 69–78, 91, 104, 145n, 180

Index of Names Šapuh (Sasanian King) 30, 44n, 54n, 170, 174n, 183–184, 190, 196–200, 202, 204n Sat‘inik (Alan Princess, Queen of Armenia)  157n, 162, 165–167, 180 Shenoute 105 Step‘anos Tarōnec‘i 184 Šušanik 37, 93n, 120, 125–128, 133, 150, 174, 205–207 Thaddeus (the Apostle) 7, 29, 69–70, 72, 74–75, 78 Thecla 20–21, 71–72, 73n, 74, 75n, 77–78, 86, 91, 95, 180 Trdat III (IV) (King of Armenia) 16, 26–27, 47, 61, 63, 74, 79–81, 84–86, 90, 92n, 93, 95–97, 102–104, 116, 118, 126, 172, 183, 187–189 Vałarš (Sasanian King) 6 Vahagn (Vǝrǝθraγna) 16, 61, 64, 65n, 85, 182 Vaxt‘ang (King of Georgia) 6 Vazgen (Georgian bdeašx, Šušanik’s husband)  37, 120, 125–127, 150, 174, 205–207 Virgin Mary 63–64, 86–88, 94n, 100–102, 145 Vrt‘anēs (Armenian Patriarch) 192–193 Xosroviduxt (Sister of King Trdat) 27, 81, 102–104, 141, 187–189 Yazkert II (Sasanian King) 31–32, 49n, 146–148, 174 Zarmanduxt (Queen of Armenia) 31, 141, 175n, 179, 185–187, Zoroaster 59